Christmas growing up? Completely awesome! We went from “It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown” to about two weeks of eating Halloween candy, then two more weeks and it was Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving special which pretty much catapulted us into pre-Christmas excitement because about a week after that we hit “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”. After that it was a solid month of excitement and expectation, family visits, and baking, and decorating, and holiday everything. I remember December being a frenzy of excitement. As I said, completely awesome.
Now I’m grown up, have kids of my own, and haven’t seen Charlie Brown in a decade or two. Christmas in many ways is still completely awesome, but also, so much more complex than I ever would have thought. I love so much about it, even as it continues to evolve in change in my life and family.
My husband and I took what we loved about our own family traditions and made new ones for our own. Christmas Eve Candlight service at church, the of time a year they can play with fire. The advent wreath on the dinner table for the four weeks before Christmas was a new one. Every night we would light the appropriate candle(s) at the dinner table and spend a minute or two talking about what Christmas is about, about the Christmas story, about giving instead of receiving, about sharing of ourselves. They likely only remember fighting over who got to blow out the candle, but I remember being able to focus off the getting of stuff and instead, just refocusing for a few moments on what actually did make Christmas….merry. We also let the kids open one present on Christmas Eve-always pyjamas. It took them awhile to catch on, and they complained once they did, but the one year I skipped that tradition they let me know in no uncertain terms that Christmas Eve means pyjamas. Probably one day they will be in their 40’s and I will still be buying them pyjamas. Finally, our kids created their own tradition, exchanging their gifts separately on Christmas Eve. It likely started out as a way to get over perpetual pyjama disappointment.
But as I get older, I see that Christmas is also hard for people. For separated families, for grieving families, for families that struggle to provide, for people alone, for people with deep wounds, and for people with families that are highly dysfunctional. My heart is heavy for these people, a single day that is so overfilled with expectation that there is almost no way to avoid feeling sad, lonely, depressed, or even bitter. Navigating the holidays can be hard, brutally hard, and sometimes I just don’t know what to say.
One of my favourite sayings is that there are the families we are born into, and the families we build for ourselves. I am so grateful for both in my life. During this season especially I wish that everyone had the access and ability to be part of a healthy family, a place to belong and be accepted.
It’s a green Christmas this year. El Niño, global warming, natural weather cycle, whatever you wish to blame it on, not a flake of snow in sight. And also no shovelling, no scraping my car, no below freezing temperatures. I miss the white blanket of snow covering everything, but I’m not complaining. Winter will arrive soon enough.
On Christmas Eve two separate, unrelated people told me that their Christmas Eve tradition was to watch national lampoons Christmas Vacation. Everybody loves the Griswolds, what is it about that family? Do we see our own families to a lessor extent within the Griswolds dysfunctional family? Do we see ourselves? Clark wanting everything to be perfect even if the rest of the family suffer through it? His wife who just smiles and goes along with it to keep the peace? Nagging in-laws? Cousin Eddie who is the unpredictable wild card at every family gathering ever? We laugh hysterically because perhaps we secretly understand all too well.
This business of Christmas can be a big, complicated, messy deal. I didn’t even touch on schedules and duelling work parties, credit card bills, travel plans, and big expectations from everyone.
But I wouldn’t miss it, I wouldn’t change it. Christmas resets my faith. It connects me to those before me as well as those after me. It gives me a chance to love a little better, the tell people I appreciate them, to slow my pace and catch my breath. To switch gears. When it’s over I will be tired and ready for rest, but I will be grateful. Not grateful for stuff, I don’t really care about the stuff, but grateful for the people I get to share life with. Family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, I am so thankful.
Wishing you a merry, blue, green, Griswold Christmas wherever you may be celebrating.