I grew up in a big family, the fifth of six children. Happy chaos reigned year round, crescendoing in December to heights of almost manic joy and anticipation. Like most kids, I lived from Christmas to Christmas. Everything about the season made me happy–our family traditions especially.
The highlight of the season for me was Christmas Eve. Even the brightly wrapped wonder of Christmas morning could not compete in my heart with the rituals of the night before Christmas. The routine was sacred: Homemade pizza eaten around the long dining room table with the Santa tablecloth. Christmas caroling to nearby friends. New flannel pajamas. Finally we gathered in front of the fireplace for the best ninety minutes of the year. Mom read the Christmas story from Luke. We sang carols in shaky four part harmony. Kurt recited “Jest ’Fore Christmas.” Our rag-tag family band blasted out heinous crimes against the canon of Christmas carols that should have been punishable by law. Dad always ended the evening with something profound–a deep Christmas thought that inevitably left us in grateful, holy tears. Life didn’t get any better than Christmas Eve.
I remember the first “Kelly” Christmas. Pre-adolescent hormonal chaos had hijacked my life. Everything seemed dramatic to me, but nothing triggered my histrionics like Kelly did. Mom tended Kelly every day after school. It seemed like a natural way for mom to bring a little cash in as college loomed for my older siblings. Though I understood the necessity, Kelly cramped my style. She followed me around like a puppy, yipping out incessant questions and sniffing around my room. Mom’s attention was suddenly divided one more way. My universe, the one that revolved around ME (as it should, I firmly believed), reeled. I lived for 5:00 p.m. and weekends, when Kelly’s hard-working single mother would collect her daughter and leave me in peace.
One December evening I was horrified to hear my mom in the kitchen asking Kelly’s mom about her Christmas Eve plans. Well knowing the singular generosity of my mother’s heart, I froze. She wouldn’t. She couldn’t. She did. She invited Kelly and her mom to join us on Christmas Eve. My Christmas Eve. I was appalled and as soon as the delighted invitees left, I threw a full-on adolescent fit. Mom smiled and gently asked me how lonely it would be for them to go home alone to a cold apartment on the night before Christmas. “It will be fun.” She assured me. “It won’t change a thing.” I knew better–as I usually did back then.
It would change everything! They would eat all our pizza. I couldn’t appear in front of strangers in my goofy Christmas pj’s. Kelly would make fun of our family band. I couldn’t conceive of listening to my Dad’s Christmas testimony or weeping in front of people I didn’t go to church with. I didn’t even know if they believed in the Christ part of Christmas–they were probably just in it for the presents. The very thought of sharing my special night with virtual strangers offended me. But I bit my tongue, so as not to disappoint my mother, and resigned myself to the worst Christmas Eve ever.
When the evening came, I found my mother was right–as she usually was back then. Patty and Kelly relaxed and melted in the warm chaos of our Christmas Eve. They harmonized. Not a snicker escaped Kelly’s lips at the family band. They even wept with us. And they didn’t want to go home. We talked and laughed and sang. It was perfect. Finally, at midnight, they thanked us, gave hugs all around, and reluctantly went out into the cold. I went to bed with a sheepish heart, marveling at the realization that the truly precious gifts of Christmas are not diminished in the sharing. On the contrary–they deepen, sweeten, intensify, multiply when we give them away. Patty and Kelly joined us for nine Christmas Eves over the years, but I remember that first “Kelly” Christmas most vividly.
I learned something that year about a phrase I had read in 2 Corinthians 12:9, something about the meaning of sufficient. It means there is enough. There is enough pizza. There is enough joy. There is enough peace. There is enough love. There is enough because Christ is enough. “My grace is sufficient for thee . . .” And for Kelly and her mom. Sufficient for all of us.
In the past almost-three decades since I married and have built Christmas traditions with my own family, this lesson has returned to me again and again. No matter where we are, or whose knees are under our table, there is enough. Every Christmas is perfect when we open our hearts to the spirit of Him only who is perfect. Joy to the World.
How did you learn that “to give is more blessed than to receive”? How did you teach your children the spirit of sharing?