We are in the home stretch… Thanksgiving has come and gone and it’s full-steam ahead to Christmas and a new year. I have no childhood recollection of how fast these few weeks go by, I simply remember enjoying two separate holidays that seemed to just magically happen to my great delight. Grown ups know all too well that holidays never spontaneously just ‘happen’, there’s a lot of time and love put into making things just right, and even the best laid plans can go amuck at any moment. I did something different this year as I sorted through giant totes of Christmas decorations: I took three little objects out that represented true joy to me and I placed them on my desk.
The first is an old ceramic tree from the 70’s that my grandmother made. I think all grandmothers of this era were making these trees. The second is a beat up old wooden ornament from my childhood tree. The poor elf is missing his arm, but whatever. They remind me of home, they bring me back to a time in childhood when what was important had nothing to do with money and everything to do with family. (The retro look is making a comeback by the way, I saw these trees at Target the other day.) The third is a little picture of our first Christmas as a married couple in Germany with our giant Ikea Christmas tree in the window. We owned nothing. We lived in a little attic apartment on the third floor and thought it would be nice to get ourselves a tree and stick it in the window. This was not received well, as it flew in the face of German custom which states unofficially “no trees until Christmas Eve.” We were chastised by the neighbors, but not everyone was displeased. Some we noticed would circle the block and take pictures of it as their kids gawked out the car window smiling. The thing I re-learned that year? The greatest memories are tied to experiences and people, not in anything fancy.
That was our last Christmas before cell phones invaded our world. It was the last Christmas before on-line ordering was a thing. It was a beautiful time. We had our family, a real-life Bavarian cabin in the woods, hot spiced wine, and some board games. Absolute magic.
I look around now and I long to feel that way again. I see people going bonkers over the latest (fill in the blank) at the mall, overspending, obsessing, competing in a made up holiday olympics of sorts to see who they can outdo this year. This is a hamster wheel I’m hopping off of folks.
I had a chat with my boys the other day about what they remember about their holidays. Now that they’re teens, I feel like we all have a new perspective we need to pay attention to. They remember the little things: Baking cookies, even though I’m a terrible baker. Our tradition of lighting the advent candles after dinner, even though I would forget for several evenings in a row. Putting the same ornaments on the tree year after year. Do you know what they don’t remember? How much we spent on their presents. The stress I felt trying to make the house look like Chip and Joanna Gaines had just come by. None of it matters to them and it’s certainly not what they’re going to take into their adult lives when they think of childhood Christmases.
Everything is just so over the top, so gluttonous, so… not what Christmas should be. I heard the morning show news girls repeating over and over how obsessed they were with the latest cyber Monday deals. I don’t like how they used that word. This season isn’t about obsessing over anything but the miracle of God coming down to meet us in our frail humanity. It’s not about artfully arranging your social media pictures to make others feel inferior or about feeling inferior yourself when you don’t bring five dozen cookies to the cookie exchange. It’s not about gritting your teeth and surviving. Take a step back, and maybe find something that represents Christmas to you. Maybe it’s a homemade ornament or an heirloom. Place it somewhere where you can see it and be reminded of what is real this time of year.
Stores and sales and gadgets are great, but we need to keep them in their proper place. (Preaching to myself here…) Christmas is just as much about chipped and broken things as it is about shiny new packages.
It’s the smell of your family recipes wafting through the house, even if they aren’t exactly gourmet cooking. It’s grandmas tree that needs glue and new bulbs but gets put out anyway. It’s friends coming over for drinks regardless of the state of your living room. It’s a time to share, not to hoard. If it’s painful to look back, look ahead. If it’s scary to look ahead, take comfort in things of the past. Regardless, enjoy this short season with family and friends, it goes by so fast. They won’t remember what you bought, but they will remember that you were there.