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Christmas Wake Up Call

In the trendy spirit of recycling, reusing, and repurposing I’m pulling out a Christmas memory that I recorded last year. I need to remember the lesson I learned:

For years, every little holiday observance that we undertook with our children became an instant “tradition.” Over the course of a decade or so all of these warm little rituals collected and grew, sort of like PeeWee Herman’s foil ball, until we had a shiny sphere of Christmas “must-do’s” the size of a small planet. No December could possibly bear up under the weight of it. We sprinted from the fourth Thursday of November straight to the New Year in a festive-if-frantic blur and then spent January in an almost comatose stupor.Then there was the year we fondly remember as the “Fa-la-la-la-la Flu” or “Retching Around the Christmas Tree.

We had blasted through our daunting holiday calendar with candy canes blazing. Tens of thousands of calories had been delivered to our neighbors and friends on dozens of goodie plates. Halls decked. Shopping done. Christmas cards mailed on time. Only the holiest of holies remained—Christmas Eve at Grandma’s, the wonder of Christmas morning at home, and a huge dinner with twenty loved ones gathered around our long pine table.
December 24 found me with the aches and the shakes and a mounting fever. Bob came home from work early looking as green as I felt. We spent the next 36 hours barely able to move from couch to bathroom and back. No Christmas Eve at Grandma’s. We opened a can of soup. Our four children made a brave go at the nativity story and cuddled down with their miserable parents on the couch to watch Christmas videos then put themselves to bed. Santa crawled off the couch long enough to shove the presents under the tree (about fifty percent of them wrapped.) Christmas morning we dragged from bed to couch to watch the kids open gifts. No huge Christmas dinner. I think the kids ate cold cereal around 1:00 pm. And I cried—cried for all the essential elements of Christmas my poor kids had missed that day.
At bedtime, our first grader, Heather, surprised us. “This was the best Christmas ever,” she sighed happily. Was she joking? Six year old sarcasm? Actually, she was sincere and her siblings chimed in their agreement. “You and Daddy just played with us and read books with us all day.” They were right. We hadn’t budged from the couch. Lying there we had played board games and read stories and assembled Legos. I hadn’t bustled around to clean up the debris and get dinner for twenty on the table. We had snuggled and dozed and played and laughed. And it had been perfect.
Talk about a holiday reality check! I began to re-evaluate all those perceived “essentials” of a perfect Christmas and pare down the list to a few truly meaningful things: unhurried, focused family time and the same glad tidings of great joy that caused heaven itself to break open in exultant song more than 2000 years ago. On earth, peace, good will to men.
Keeping Christmas simple is something I have to re-commit to every year. This December I got a wonderful gift to help me keep the season in perspective. If you want to spend ten minutes feeling the true spirit of Christmas, check out this inspiring message. It touched my heart and got me started on the right foot for the holidays. click on the this: Heartwarming Christmas message


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? 

A Christmas Story Or Two . . . Or Six

You gotta love technology. I read “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” to my grandkids a couple of days ago. They live 700 miles away. That makes it hard to hold them on my lap for a story–so I hold them on my laptop instead. Video chat takes a little of the distance out of long-distance Nana-hood.

My deal with Lydia and Emerson this December has been to read them a Christmas book every day on the computer. Mmmmmm. It makes me happy to share two of my favorite things with them–books and Christmas. I never tire of The Polar Express or Santa Calls, The Christmas Orange, and The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey. 

As I have leafed through my big basket of holiday tales this year, a realization has dawned. The Christmas stories that  touch me the most do not have pages or illustrations. They live in my memory. So I have determined to put words on a few Christmas recollections. Hopefully I will find something sweet and  real in that hazy no-man’s-land between memories and the meaning we assign to them. Maybe the exercise will remind me of other true things that I almost remember–of a new star and a newborn babe and new hope.

My goal for the remaining week of advent is to record a Christmas memory each day, from my childhood or from my own children’s growing-up years. Think I can do it? We’ll see. I’ll post the first one today, I hope. We’ll see what happens from there.  In the meantime, chime in with a comment. Tell me about your favorite Christmas book.  Or share a Christmas memory/tradition that means something to you.