It’s July 26th, and here you are, thinking about Christmas. We even beat Walmart for Xmas displays, didn’t we?
You were looking through your blog calendar, and came up with ideas for posts up to December, and then you stopped, and sighed.
Because every year, you know you should say something about Christmas. Every year, you wish you didn’t have to.
Christmas—any holiday, really—is just too much.
What are you supposed to say about a holiday when the idea of doing more for it makes you hyperventilate? When you already feel ashamed at all the ways you’re not making Christmas count this year? How shabby your yuletide feels sometimes? How hodge-podge and half-assed your focus on the Babe in the manger?
Every year you come up blank, wishing you had something to say. Because if you are feeling oppressed, what about everyone else?
Every year, you wish you could bless someone instead of shriveling up with fear.
This year, we’re going to.
We’re writing something now, when the anxiety is six months away. We’re writing something when there’s no pressure to buy presents or do Advent or make a holly jolly Christmas out of tin foil and paperclips.
And here’s what we’re writing: how to dwell in this holiday as it is, not how you think it should be.
How can we settle into waiting, instead of doing? How can we remember the good news when it sounds like busy news?
With that: here’s your first reminder. Enjoy it, and enjoy that sweater weather, you hear?
Feeling something is optional
When my grandfather died, I sat in the church he attended, second pew back, left side. I was wedged in-between bigger people, grownup shoulders just at chin level.
I was thirteen; it was November. I felt cold as the half-melted snow.
I didn’t know my grandfather that well. We’d moved across the country when I was three, and there had been some estrangement between my parents and my grandparents. So he was a relative stranger when Alzheimers started siphoning him away like sand in an hourglass.
At the funeral, I felt ashamed I didn’t cry.
I thought the point of funerals was to feel something, grieve, lament.
I used to think this was the point of Christmas, too.
Feeling close to God, feeling warm from family togetherness. Feeling anticipation of gifts, feeling the ache of marking kids’ relentless march towards adulthood. Feeling grateful for Jesus or in awe of his birth.
I do this to myself every Christmas, too. I hope the calendar, a few traditions and twinkly lights will put me in a particular mood.
Sometimes it does.
But not always.
And you know what? That’s okay.
I am done rising to the occasion. The occasion is not a person. It’s not even a thing. It’s a date, a collection of lovely traditions, a practice.
The occasion is a point in time.
We can mark it with our hearts empty, and it still has meaning. It meant something to be at my grandfather’s funeral, because it’s wasn’t up to me to make a funeral meaningful.
We are here at Christmastime, period. We are marking the time—not to make ourselves feel something, but because the act of remembrance and commemoration has meaning on its own.
Commemorate however you will: with trees or not, with family, or not, with happiness, or not.
Feeling something is lovely. But it is also optional. Feeling something is beside the point.
Right here, right now, we are remembering. In our ambivalence or stress about the holiday, we are still commemorating Christ’s birth.
He is coming, He is almost here! Our lack of warm fuzzies will not hinder his arrival.
You don’t have to manufacture your own miracle to participate in this birth.
You don’t have to work up a good mood to experience true joy. It will come like a thief in the night.
You can commemorate Christ now: with the tree only half-trimmed, or your lousy budget for gifts like a little splinter under your heart, or your anger at a family member lodged under your cheer. You can be in Advent on a long journey, or content with your family gathered close, or with a new baby and no time.
He is coming. He is almost here.
Thank God, He will show up whole-hearted, whether we do or not.
Image credit: Robert S. Donovan