No matter how many Christmases have gone by, or how many gray hairs I have, every year brings this feeling of expectancy, happiness and a bit of mystique when the season of Advent arrives. This is when I pull out our collection of Christmas and Hanukkah stories and try to read one or two/day. It is when I begin playing Christmas CDs alternately with the usual classical and folk music. It’s time for my totally unrealistic “to do” list, designed to create the perfect holiday times. Of course, I don’t do all those things. I’ve grown sufficiently wise that I don’t even expect to accomplish everything. Planning is part of the fun, and we always manage the essential things. (And really, it is amazing how few things are essential.)
I am a bit tired of this year’s woeful news commentators moaning about empty shelves; how the toys will be fewer this year because they are sitting on ships out in a California bay, and maybe this will “spoil Christmas.” Now I can sympathize with retailers and their losses, but spoiling Christmas? Have we forgotten what Christmas is all about? Turn off the news. Get out the Scrabble game, or even better --- Twister! Collect some Christmas films or old musicales. Read stories. There is enough good will and wonder about Christmas to provide delight regardless of finding just the “right” toy. Parents need to give experiences along with things ---- to make time for good happenings ----to actually listen to their kids and share stories about growing up. A relaxed attitude---- genuinely feeling that time with family is a good time --- that is what kids will remember. A day of creating a gingerbread house or baking cookies, a taffy-pull, an evening of popcorn and movies, driving around town to see all the decorated houses, setting up a creche and reading Luke, Chapter 2, maybe an in-house contest to see what gifts can be made from whatever can be found, will hold more value than the very latest 1000-piece Lego set or whatever this year’s magnificent digital toy might be.
My most memorable Christmas, as a kid, was the year my father built a doll house. It wasn’t a surprise, because we watched it grow. Actually, he built two of them; one for me and one for my niece, my eldest brother’s daughter, who grew up with me. The houses were built of plywood, were two-stories with eight large rooms and a patio. These edifices took up a lot of space; a bit over a foot deep, probably 4 feet in length and 20 inches high. They were nothing like the elaborate plastic models one finds in stores nor were they as beautiful as those a friend built. But they were quite wonderful in their own way. Those simple empty rooms were just waiting for creative play. I painted each room, pasted on “windows”, made rugs, bought or made furniture bit by bit, filling hours with fun. It cost my father something for the wood probably, and took hours of his time, but I expect the cost was tiny when divided by the hours I spent using it. Currently it is in a great-grand-niece’s play room where I hope she will find it as wonderful a toy as I did.
Gifts do not have to leave a family in financial chaos; chosen wisely, they can express love, caring, fun ----- and be affordable. Kerm’s grandma always gave boxes of home-made goodies and every one of us eagerly looked forward to those boxes. My mother knitted slippers and mittens, and also hand-painted containers which she then filled with cookies. No one was ever disappointed to see their name on one of these. And to those of us for whom Christmas is an integral part of our faith, gifts are a pleasure, but incidental to our celebration of new birth and beginnings. “Joy To The World” is a gift that fills us with awe, delight and hope for the year ahead. Those stranded ships full of toys may create an inconvenience, but Christmas will be Christmas regardless.
I think that perhaps we all have mistaken expectations not only for Christmas. ----but for ourselves---- much of the time! In our rush to acquire everything on our universal life-list of wants, we often amass possessions to the point where we really don’t have space or time for them. And we do the same with Christmas ---- scheduling activities until the holiday season flies by in a blur and we end up exhausted and wondering how we missed the magic. We need to plan for space and silence; we will never hear the angel bells of legend amid our rushing and tintinnabulation. We will miss the depth of the Christmas story --- or the Hanukkah story ----- unless we give ourselves time to think about what it means to have a Savior of the world born in a barn (so alien to our worldly values) ---- or a lamp whose oil kept burning for days after it should have run out (so impossible!) ----- or the fact that these stories have impacted so many lives for centuries. Thinking about the simple and yet miraculous things in this world will bring more joy than all the glitz in the shops and malls. And this is also true for life in general.
Speaking of a lack, many people have chosen, in the past few years, to not send Christmas/Hanukkah/holiday cards. This is quite understandable. There is an immense amount of time involved in writing notes and addressing them and there is the rising cost of postage. But so far, I’ve not been able to let go of this annual connection. We began making our own cards, I think, in 1966. I drew a design, and friends silk-screened them for us. That became a bit overwhelming all around, so then we began running off our own; first on a mimeograph, then silk-screened on our own frame, and now we use a copy machine for the design of the year, and our rather lengthy letter. As I address each envelope, I think of and am glad for the friends to whom that card is going.
We are not known for being timely with our holiday greetings. We do get a few out before Christmas, but most are sent later. We try to have them in the mail by “Little Christmas” --- Epiphany, January 6th, but sometimes they run a bit after that. Being late gives us opportunity to respond to the letters we do get. I miss hearing from people who have decided to no longer send cards, but ---- it is quite possible that one of these years, our thoughts from afar will have to suffice in lieu of actual cards and letters.
Now that we are past Thanksgiving, our pumpkins have gone the annual route to the bird feeders. The multi-colored fruits of the vine have been such a joy on our porch. However, over the months of December and January, turkeys and deer will consider them an additional, yummy side dish to the sunflower seeds they come to eat. In place of pumpkins, snowmen of various sorts, will take over our porch along with an evergreen wreath and some window candles. We have a small problem inside this year. Having added another chair to the living room for the benefit of my back, we have eliminated the corner where the Christmas tree usually sat. So, we are looking at a --- gasp ---- small tree!! This would truly be a change for us and will take some getting-used-to. We had a table tree once before ---- our very first Christmas together. We lived in an efficiency apartment outside of D.C., so our very – at the time --- expensive little tree sat on a dresser. How we will now select only a few ornaments from our stash, for a small tree, will surely be a problem. Our tree trimmings have accumulated over the years, and always bring back good memories. There are the colorful little angels --- a gift from a niece. There are the fragile “Shiny Brite” glass globes that decorated my childhood trees. There’s the gleaming brass Noah’s Ark, given by a friend and a whole collection of crocheted and sparkling snowflakes. I will just have to dream up new ways to use these things if I run out of tree space; seeing them makes me happy! I expect we will cope; we’ve always managed to be flexible with our holidays, as has often been quite necessary.
There was the year we set out for a family gathering, ran into a blizzard, and spent Christmas night with strangers who welcomed us (2 adults, 2 children and a dog) into their home when our car ran off the road north of Trumansburg. Another year, a certain toddler (who shall remain nameless) awoke at 3 AM, wandered downstairs and busily began opening everyone’s Christmas gifts. Another year, one of our little ones developed tonsillitis on Christmas Eve as we were driving from Pennsylvania to grandparents in NYS --- necessitating a trip to the ER and antibiotics. And now, with the years, family structure has changed; we are the elders. Our sons are grown with their own families, and flexibility is what keeps us all happily celebrating ----- whenever and wherever we can.
More than the outward trappings, we are hoping to enjoy this season with serenity and awareness of the wonders around us. We hope this is also true for you. There will always be changes and sometimes even grief. But Christmas is larger than our very human concerns; it will, if we allow ourselves to be open, fill us will a deep sense of gratitude for our lives and all of the amazing bits and pieces of the world. So let us add thankfulness and awareness to that “To Do” list. And in this early December, let us prepare our hearts for a time of mystery, expectancy and closeness to Creation.
Carol Bossard writes from her home in Spencer NY. You can contact her by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.