The Peace of Christmas Day
So often, I ponder something I’ve come up with and wonder “Am I on to something? Or do I just not get it?” I’ve been asking those questions to myself a lot this month.
It’s been a very long time since I’ve had those anticipatory butterflies in my stomach over what might be under the Christmas tree for me. In fact, although I’ve been on the receiving end of some amazing gifts over the years, even as a kid, I rarely asked for specific items or made wish lists. I remember one year, to everyone’s surprise, I put in a strong, Christmas Eve request for a single tennis ball from Santa in order to test his existence, I guess. From what I understand now, my mom put in a great effort to secure that lone tennis ball, thus further perpetuating that (to a non-parent, at least) cruelest of myths.
This introductory expository material is meant to demonstrate that the commercial aspects of Christmas don’t really grab me. I’ve never been one to get wrapped up in the excitement of falling down a mall escalator due to the weight of shopping bags, I’ve never participated in Black Friday (on purpose, at least). I love to give gifts, and put in a thoughtful effort for specific people, but I can’t rally around the required gift-giving for people that you just can’t make happy, no matter what you do. Why add that stress and expense, I say.
Which all brings me to the purpose of this post. Why is it that I still end up calling Christmas my favorite time of year, if I’m not so much into the key features that our society holds dear?
I’m a sentimental, nostalgic, emotional fellow. You don’t have to dig too deeply into the posts on this site to see that. For me, Christmas is a time for all of these, and in strong supply.
I love simplicity during the holidays, and I strive to keep it in them. Over the past few years, we’ve made conscious decisions to reduce the number of purchases, experiences, and so on, and it’s always done us well.
There are some years, like this one, in fact, where we choose not to purchase gifts for each other. We’ve proposed, in past years, a reduction in the amount of gift giving with other family members, but the motion has never passed. So, we make adjustments toward simplicity in the only way we can. Ironically, it means we’re not exchanging the gifts that we’d be most excited to give and to receive, but, it’s a choice you have to make, and that’s what we have come up with. It works.
Similarly, my choir has had wonderful programs every Advent season since my arrival. But, of late, it’s been another conscious decision to simplify. It’s every choir director’s dream to mount a stage production or large cantata during the Christmas season, but I’m a realist, always have been. I could not, with a clean heart, require my volunteers, who are under similar life/work stresses this month, to show up multiple nights a week, in the hopes of a triumphal service or concert. But, I can give them approachable music that is still special, distribute accompanying duties amongst varying forces, divide solos around the group, etc. Better to give everyone a little something special than to force the entire group to give up their entire month for me and my ego. This tactic always delivers.
There are a lot of temptations to “have fun” during the holidays. In my metro area alone, I could easily attend concerts, ballets, services, and plays every night without repeat, and still come nowhere near seeing it all. And don’t get me wrong, I would love to see it all! But, we have a shared calendar called “Potential Fun”. If we spot something that sounds appealing, we try to put it on there, not as a requirement, but just to keep it in mind. When the days rolls around, maybe we’ll feel up to it. This works for us.
There are things we simply can’t turn down. I couldn’t in good faith sit at home and say that I’m too tired, or too busy to go to a family party or gathering with friends. Job requirements, of course, also must be prioritized. But, it turns out, most other things can be skipped, even though they would be fun. We choose a few, not all. And we focus not on setting up precedents from year to year. Just because we loved this particular concert last year, doesn’t mean that we need to go to it every year after that. This is the most important one for us. If we’re something other than an anonymous attendee, this can be very hard, turning down someone’s request that we be at a special ecumenical service, or take on an extra role on an ad hoc committee, but you’ve got to take care of yourself, and when we achieve that goal, it really pays off handsomely.
So, what is it that’s making me want to avoid these temptations for “fun”?
Peace. You’ve got to find it somewhere for yourself. For me, this means quiet times with my wife, by the Christmas tree, a quiet program on the TV, in a living room lit only by ornamental lights. If I can get even a few nights like this during the season, I’ll be just fine. All the other experiences may be wonderful in their own time, but this recharges me.
Have yourself a merry little Christmas.