Monday, December 05, 2005

Jingle Dogs

Well, it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas around here. :o)

For the first time in several years, I'm really decorating. Even the dogs are getting in on the act (we call them our "Jingle Dogs" with their fancy red and white jingle-bell collars).

The last three Decembers ('02, '03, '04) held major work deadlines for me, so I did only the bare minimum of Christmas traditions: a tree (put up Christmas Eve); an Advent calendar (barely used); a few candles; stockings on the fireplace mantel; presents Christmas morning, a few family gatherings, and that's about it.

But this year...ah, this year, we're doing Christmas the way we did for years and years: decorations, homemade goodies (cookies, fudge, peanute brittle, muddy buddies, hash), Christmas music, Christmas movies (my favorite: A Muppet Christmas Carol), Advent readings, worship services, and of course, the rest (tree, shopping, gifts, family time, etc.).

For the first time in years, it's fun. Truly fun -- not pressured. Wow. What a change.

I worked hard to create memories when the kids (the human kind) were small. I wanted Christmases to be perfect. I pressured myself to create a Normal Rockwell Christmas every year. But I always failed. Always--I couldn't get it right (perfect), no matter how hard I tried. And I always walked away from Christmas disappointed.

By the time my youngest son hit his mid-teens a few years ago, I was worn out. I'd burnt out on Christmas and its harriedness. Besides, Christmas (and all its traditions) didn't seem to matter so much anymore, especially since the kids were grown.

I was wrong.

My young adult children (18, 19, 21) seem to need Christmas traditions now more than ever, especially now that two of them live away from home. They ask for all those things I did when they were small; they look forward to them. And not because the things I did were perfect (far from it), but because those things made my kids feel loved and secure.

Well, duh.

What do you know! I finally get it.

It's only taken me nearly two decades to realize that Christmas isn't (and never was) about Norman Rockwell images of perfection (why do we do this to ourselves!).

Regardles of season of life, I'm learning that Christmas is a time of celebration: we celebrate God's gift to us in Jesus; we celebrate being part of a family (no matter what size or h0w scattered); we celebrate living in a land where we are free to observe Christ's birth; we celebrate countless graces (roofs over our heads, food on our tables, clean water to drink, sanitary living conditions, well-stocked stores, relative peace and safety, the beauty of nature, you name it...); we celebrate the gift of love and the Lord of Love Himself.

Our problem, at least in the United States, is that Christmas becomes so busy and so material, that we fail to take time to notice the heart and reason behind it all.

If only we'd take time to do so.

So this year, I started early. I started reading Advent reflections Thanksgiving weekend. I let my boss know that I'd be cutting back on my hours in December (as a freelancer, I have this luxury) so I could pace myself through the holidays; I've taken time to sit, be still, and reflect on the true meaning of the season. Instead of dealing with the stress of malls and traffic, I did most of my shopping on-line, and now my shopping is done (a first for me in early December); my house is decorated (inside and out!). I have Christmas music playing all day while I'm working in the house. And I may even send Christmas cards this year (something I haven't done in several years).

But most of all, this Christmas, for me, is about relationship: relationship with God and relationship with those I love.

Dr. Suess's How the Grinch Stole Christmas sums it up best:

"Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small,
Was singing! Without any presents at all!
He HADN'T stopped Christmas from coming! It CAME!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!

And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling: 'How could it be so?'
'It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
'It came without packages, boxes or bags!'
And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before!
'Maybe Christmas,' he thought, 'doesn't come from a store.
'Maybe Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!'"

Here's to hoping your next few weeks (and mine) will be filled with the 'little bit more.'

'Til next time,

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