How to be ready for Christmas
"I must not have enough obligations," I said to my husband. "I don't get why people stress out over Christmas."
Before you hate me, bear with me. I'm trying to bring tidings of comfort and joy here.
Yes, it's true: my holiday obligation list is pretty short. For starters, I don't have kids. From what I can tell, this cuts out about 90% of holiday stress. It means I don't have to fight other parents over a Freak-Me-Out-Elmo, or worry about finding non-lead-laden toys made in the U.S. of A., or queue up for hours on end hoping to score a Wii. (But if I did, I'd make jokes about having to "pii".) I don't have to field questions about the reality of Santa or why he isn't in the nativity scene. I don't have to put together a bike on Christmas Eve or worry that the kids will wake up in the middle of the night and blow the whole deal. I don't have to struggle with the pressure to buy mountains of presents to keep up with expectations or explain to impressionable young minds that Christmas is about Christ and not about who gets the most candy canes and DVDs.
The extent of our child-focused activity for Christmas (or any other time of the year for that matter), revolves around my husband's two Godchildren. Our overall shopping list is short. Beyond each other, it includes four parents, three friends, two kids, and one grown sibling. It's pretty manageable, even if a few of those folks are nearly impossible to buy for.
I don't break a sweat about sending Christmas cards. Most years, I don't even do it. Not because I'm boycotting anything, but because I forget, or can't be bothered, or run out of time, or don't find cards that I like. Every few years I have grand plans of making my own Christmas cards, like several of my crafty friends do, but it hasn't happened yet. (So if you've been wondering why years go by without getting a card from me, don't be offended. You weren't singled out for some slight or grievance; I neglect everyone on my list equally.)
I don't have an annual menu of holiday goodies to make, or dozens of cookies to bake for a swap or exchange or whatever you do with cookies when you work in an office, are a member of the PTA, or know your neighbors by their first AND last names. If I get around to making something special, like my dark and dense gingerbread cake (from scratch, thank you very much!), it's a nice treat.
Family gatherings are also rather limited, with a nice five-person get together on Christmas Eve and two bigger stops on Christmas day. But since the hubs works in retail and is pretty much MIA from Thanksgiving until New Year's, we've occasionally bucked the system and stayed home all day long on Christmas day by ourselves: just the two of us, whatever movies are on TV, and some tasty ham sandwiches. It may sound lonely, but trust me: it's quiet bliss when you haven't seen your spouse for more than a few hours here and there for a month.
We always get a fresh tree (even that year we technically stole one and then didn't put it up), but usually not until about 10 days before Christmas. This year we were early and got one the first week of December. It's been sitting in our living room for over a week without lights or decorations. We'll probably get to it by the beginning of the next week. There are several wreaths hanging around the house. Granted, they're autumnal wreaths of orange and yellow and brown, but wreaths nonetheless. I'll get the winter/Christmas decor out of the basement and up before Christmas Eve. And if I don't? Maybe I'll put it up in January. Or not. Because that's how I roll.
When people ask me if I'm "ready" for Christmas, I sometimes try to explain that I don't consider Christmastime something to get ready for, but rather, something to enjoy. When that would sound too pretentious or just be too exhausting to get into, I simply answer "Yes." And what I mean is: Bring it on! I'm ready for Christmas.
(Here comes the comfort and joy part.)
I'm ready for cold winter nights that sparkle with lights hanging from rooftops, with fake deer standing sentinel in front yards, with garland wrapped around lampposts. I'm ready for carols that remind us to take heart, to take stock, and to take pause. I'm ready for the gift of honoring the people I love with presents that will truly touch their hearts. I'm ready to find myself and my God in a hushed, candlelit sanctuary at midnight, full of mystery and secrets. I'm ready to remember that Christmas goes beyond the hype, the uber-consumerism, and the doorbuster sales. I'm ready to celebrate pagan rituals that have been co-opted into the Christian faith because the truth of God shows up over and over again in the myths and archetypes throughout the ages. I'm ready to celebrate the birth of the true Sungod Saviour during the darkest time of the year, when we need light and hope and a reason to get up on cold, dreary mornings.
I realize that your lists for baking, buying, visiting, and hosting may be much longer and more complex than mine. But I hope that amidst it all, you can be ready for Christmas, too.