You don’t have to experience many Christmases before the comparison game begins. Children remember their biggest presents, their Elf on the Shelf’s most challenging hiding places, the time when your home was the most elaborately decorated (interior and exterior) and how early in the season the decorating began. They remember the year your dog wore a Santa costume throughout December and that time when you perfected a peppermint hot chocolate recipe and served it every night.
The combination of such memories, embellished by time and imagination, contributes to the magic of the season.
But while children’s memories are relatively short-term, ours span a longer period. We not only remember traditions carried down from year to year but also from generation to generation. I remember the homemade chocolate covered cherries and steaming pots of hot cocoa my grandmother served on Christmas Eve and how my mother hand-spun elaborate bows out of rolls of ribbon to top our perfectly wrapped presents. I remember pulling taffy with my great-aunts while my parents attended grown-up holiday parties and the series of stops on our annual Christmas tour as we visited family, both local and out-of-state. I remember cutting, sewing, and stuffing fabric ornaments to hang on our tree.
I also remember the times as an adult when I did Christmas better — when I mailed Christmas cards (on time) with family photos; when I baked batches of hot, homemade cinnamon rolls and our children delivered them to the neighbors; when I led month-long Christmas-themed devotionals around our kitchen table at night; when I crafted thoughtful, individual gifts by hand.
No matter our age, we all enter the Christmas season with expectations influenced by past Christmases. And as women, we are often the ones expected to make the magic happen. Some years, the time and resources just aren’t there, but other years (and this one leaves us feeling so guilty), it’s our desire and motivation that have gone missing.
We can blame it on current events — no matter how much we want to shake off the pandemic, the world around us has changed — but for some of us the pandemic is merely an excuse, an easy scapegoat for feelings of inadequacy and the fear of not meeting the expectations of those around us. As if Christmas was about us anyway.
If comparison is the thief of joy, and Christmas celebrates the birth of the ultimate giver of joy, Jesus Christ Himself, then comparison has no place in how we observe this meaningful season. Whenever I apologize for a “less than” Christmas (yes, I’ve actually done this more than once), our children reassure me that it’s just right.
My apologies are misguided, putting the focus on my follies and failings instead of the incomprehensible fact that Jesus Christ descended from the perfection and glory of heaven into a fallen world for our sakes. He left a place where He was worshiped for one where He was ridiculed and rejected. He traded paradise for pain and suffering.
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
John 1:14 (KJV)
This year I want to ease off the gas and savor the season at a slower speed, contemplating what the Father and Son sacrificed when Jesus came to dwell among us and spending time with the people who dwell with me each day.
The day after Thanksgiving, when the crumbs were swept away, I cleared a spot at the end of our dining room table and pulled out a puzzle. I wanted to create a spot where we could set aside devices, share stories, and sit together, possibly assembling a 1000-piece puzzle in the process. We’ve curled up on the couch to watch new Christmas movies at home and ventured out, blankets in hand, to a small local theater to see Frozen on the big screen again. We’ve whipped up batches of hot chocolate and steamed apple cider and built fires in the fireplace on cold evenings. Our best-loved Christmas albums are on heavy rotation, speakers synced so the music will follow us from room to room.
Memories are waiting to be made in such simple moments.
Our decorations aren’t Pinterest-worthy. We wrap our gifts, but we gave up on bows a long time ago. We haven’t mailed Christmas cards in years. But my family is enjoying the season together, and laughter rings throughout our home.
Trying to compete with Christmases before — those times when we cooked, decorated, gifted, or celebrated a little better — can steal the beauty and joy of this magical time of year. We’ll never do Christmas wrong when we focus on the real reason for the season — the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ — and spending time with those we love.
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9:6 (KJV)