So, it is Christmas Eve. Hopefully, all of the gifts are wrapped and under the tree, Christmas cards are mailed, and the items on your Christmas to-do-list are neatly checked off. If not, well, Christmas will be here tomorrow whether we want it to or not, and, most likely, the incomplete tasks will go unnoticed. Over the past month or two, I have read a number of blogs and articles about quitting Christmas, reinventing Christmas, paring down Christmas…..the evils of commercialism, Santa, Elf on the Shelf, the Christmas tree itself, yadda, yadda, yadda…….
Maybe it’s my eternal optimism, but I couldn’t disagree more with most of what I have read lately. Yes, I have heard valid points. There are problems with the world and how they interpret the holiday. As long as there are humans on the planet, there will be problems. Good will be twisted and misrepresented. That means we should give up on the good all together? I think not.
The first complaint I hear the most is about commercialism, and Christmas being pushed down our throat right after Halloween. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His ONLY begotten son, so that we might not perish, but have everlasting life.” I don’t know, but that is something pretty big. Something that should be celebrated all year long, but why not make a big deal about it for about 6 weeks of the year? I know. I know. Wal-Mart is not advertising Jesus in the manger. They are after the almighty dollar, but, honestly, if I were the people behind Wal-Mart, I would take advantage of this time of gift-giving, too. That’s how America works. And maybe the motives are all wrong, but maybe it’s time to celebrate the good that comes with the arrival of Christmas so early in the year….the reminder that we did nothing to deserve His love, and, yet, He loved us anyway. I think that is worth pondering and just maybe that pondering will lead to a big dose of Christmas spirit instead of a case of the bah-humbugs.
Santa. That evil Santa. Stealing Jesus’ spotlight. Last I checked, Jesus really doesn’t need help in that department, but let’s talk about Santa for a moment. Did you know that St. Nicholas was a wealthy man who gave up all he had to help those in need and be a protector of children? He saved daughters from being sold into slavery because of their lack of a dowry, he saved men from execution, and he lobbied for citizens to protect them from an overpowering government. He was imprisoned and persecuted for his unwavering belief in Christ. He spent his entire life showing others how to love God and care for each other. What if we concentrated more on who the real Santa was and why he was celebrated in the first place? A couple years ago, I started reading little stories about St. Nicholas to my kids right before Christmas and began a dialogue on his exemplary behavior. What is it that Christ called us to do? Wasn’t it to love God and love each other? St. Nicholas was a perfect example of Christ’s commandment. And Christmas is the perfect time to shine a light on real life Christ-like examples, so, in my opinion, there is room in our house for Santa Clause and the sacrifice, kindness, and love he represents. I will say that I do tame down the “he only brings toys to good boys and girls”, because that is conditional love, which is, clearly, the opposite of God’s love for us, and Santa only brings one or two things to each child at the Spaeth house. Mom and Dad get credit for the rest of the gifts.
The rat race. Pinterest. Gift lists. Parties. Obligations. Dirty Santa. Cookie Swaps. Pagan traditions. Again, I say, yadda, yadda, yadda. All of it does get overwhelming. Here’s an idea? If you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it. Don’t show goodwill out of obligation. It defeats the purpose. If celebrating Christ’s birth by making homemade gifts and handmade gift tags excites you, do it!! If it doesn’t, then you aren’t doing anyone any favors. If you love buying gifts for almost everyone you know (which I do) and you have the money to do it, then bring on the gift list! If it feels daunting and you are going to go into major credit card debt doing it, I’d lay off of the online shopping. We all have choices in life. If you are making those choices out of obligation or out of feelings of insecurity because your neighbor makes all her own cards, puts up 10 Christmas trees, and has perfected the snowman cake complete with organic sugar and all natural color dyes, you aren’t celebrating Christmas. You are digging yourself a hole of regret, guilt, and condemnation. The exact opposite of the idea behind it all. This year has been one of the craziest holiday seasons for me. I started a dance studio this year, so that meant extra time out of the house and ordering costumes before the end of the year. I also volunteered to get involved in our community theatre which meant sitting through 5 days worth of Grease auditions the week before Christmas. Eve and I decided to make handmade gifts for all of her cheer team, her teachers, and other family helpers, like Eve’s piano teacher and Jasper’s sitter. I, along with sanity-saving volunteers, filled 350 stockings to take to OU Children’s for our project Stuff Eden’s Stocking. We organized donations, bought stuffers, ordered Kindles, stuffed and labeled and loaded. All of this “stuff” I chose to do, and, yes, at one point, I was stressed. Heck, maybe I’m always a little stressed. But each task I chose to do was out of love for that task. I love to make presents. I love to show appreciation for those I love. I love the arts and dance and musical theatre, so I chose to do those things, even though they conflicted with this busy time of year. I chose to take on Eden’s Fireworks out of love for those little ones sitting in the hospital fighting for their lives and a passion to be an example of God’s agape love and grace to them. I also choose NOT to do Elf on the Shelf because I don’t have time for it, and, frankly, I think it is kind of silly. I choose not to do Black Friday shopping or mall Santas or cookie swaps (for the most part) or handmade gift tags or a gingerbread house or a trip to the Polar Express. There is a new idea surfacing (or maybe it has always been there) that if you do a lot at Christmas, if you buy tons of gifts, if you have a long to-do list, then you should be guilted into simplifying. If what you are doing is taking the place of your relationship with Christ or is taking over the “Christ” in your “mas”, then yes, you might want to simplify. But to people like me, I doubt we would do it any other way. Please, ask yourself…..Is what I am doing making me happy? Is what I’m doing an example of God’s love and how to love others? If the answer is no to either of them, you might want to reevaluate. If the answer is yes, continue on. And ignore the nay-sayers that try to guilt you into doing less because it is the “right thing to do” or because doing more is somehow the opposite of what Christmas is. Each is free to celebrate this great love the individual way he wants. Guilt shouldn’t be a part of the Christmas equation.
It boils down to the heart. Always. I often look at it this way. The same step ball change or pas de bouree that I use to glorify the Lord through dance is the same step ball change or pas de bourree that is used in the latest “booty” video. It’s not the step’s fault on how it is being used. If your heart is not in the right place while celebrating, it’s not Christmas’ fault. It’s yours. If your kids are entitled, narcissistic jerks at Christmas, chances are they are that way year around and the least of your problems is putting less for them under the tree. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past 4 years, it’s that life is too short to be doing things for the wrong reasons or to be doing the right things half-heartedly because of wrong motivations. Ask the Lord to search your heart if you are feeling conflicted over the holidays. He will answer. Christmas is only an outward expression of the pure hope and love that was presented to the world over 2000 years ago. If Christ is in us, every day of the year should be an outward expression of that hope and love to the world. If you are not feeling hope this holiday, my prayer for you is that you encounter God before this season closes. He is where your hope lies. He alone is the true meaning of Christmas.