It is a cold December morning is two weeks before Christmas. The gifts are inventoried on my list, most have been shipped from wherever I ordered them, and those that have arrived have already been wrapped, tagged, and placed under the tree. Oh, I realize that I'm a little bit too Martha Stewart about that for some people's taste, but I've had gifts languishing in a closet on Christmas morning because I didn't make my list and check it twice...and someone thought they'd been naughty, when in actuality, the reverse was true.
My Christmas decorations - acquired over the past twenty-five years of marriage - are covering every conceivable surface in my home, and there's an equal number in the attic waiting for my kids to move out on their own or for my tastes to change back to dancing bears or "early WalMart with a shade of ABC Distributing Company." I look at my tree with its more sophisticated ornaments (Jill insisted) and those of the past that passed her inspection, and I am delighted with this wonderful mix of past and present. The beautiful glass angel that a sweet friend gave me years ago, along with an ornament that has a handwritten note that I've never wanted to remove, and the reindeer that replaced one that someone stole from me in "Dirty Santa" at a Sunday School party years ago. (I was later banned from playing this game by Big Dave because my competitive nature overrode my good sense.)
I am pleased that we have a social calendar that includes an excellent mix of friends, family, and work associates. I've missed a couple of very important things this year, and I do regret that Baking Day did not happen. But I feel blessed that I have the opportunity to have something to look forward to, and am thrilled that I have people who care enough about me to have invited me in the first place.
It makes me wonder, though, what life would be like in December without the joy of the season to anticipate. If my belief system did not include the celebration of the birth of the tiny Christ child in a stable over two thousand years ago. If I had nothing to be grateful for, and nobody to look forward to seeing. If the time between the bookends of Thanksgiving and New Year's Day was completely devoid of all that I have come to know and love about the Christmas season.
Every year, I watch some version of "A Christmas Carol" and see Scrooge being transformed from a man of the world to a man of spirit. I believe that most of us have been blessed with some magic in our lives...and we see his transformation as reassurance that the magic is still out there...that it exists. People that we somehow believe will always be there for us...or traditions that seem to go on year after year until the next generation claims them as their own. At Christmas, we have time to reflect on our life after the one we are currently living, and we tend to have moments of clarity when we see that we should spend more time appreciating what we have. We see the wonder of the Santa Claus tradition in the eyes of the little people, and the joy in the eyes of someone who is opening a gift that we were able to give them out of our abundance.
I cannot imagine life without the Christmas cards that come into this house. To look at the faces of our sweet friends and their children, and we read the messages and even see the precious words that are written by those we love who are far away. I realized that I will mail two fewer cards this year than I did last year, and that thought saddens me. I suppose as time goes on, my list will continue to dwindle if everything remains the same. But I do so hope that the opposite will occur. That I will have a larger list because I've been blessed with more people who make up my past and my present.
When I hear the song "Silver Bells" - I always think of my mother, uncle, and aunt, who sing this song together...or at least did several times as I was growing up. I can be standing in the middle of Stein Mart, and if it comes on...I pause for a moment to think back. It isn't the only Christmas song that transports me, either. I suppose that's why I have little patience with what I call the "junk songs" of Christmas like "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer" or the one about the hippopotumus. I remember playing "What Child Is This?" on the piano at my grandmother's house because I could actually figure out a chord or two, and I rarely hear the "Hallelujah Chorus" without feeling my spirit being lifted. Tonight I am going to the cantata at our church. I know that people who are gifted singers cannot imagine my reluctance to attend these every year, but I have been anti-cantata for some inexplicable reason for as far back as I can now remember. Tonight - Lord willing - the cycle breaks. And I'll get to see my friend sing her heart out with an amazing choir and drama group.
I suppose that if we didn't celebrate Christmas, that void would be replaced with something else. We might have some other federally mandated holiday, or we would simply create something to mark the winter solstice. But I love the fact that we do have these weeks to celebrate the past, enjoy the present, and look ahead to the future. I love the knowledge that because He came...my future is secure. My current circumstances are but temporary afflictions or temporary joys. The blessings I now know are but pale reflections of the life that is being stored up for me in heaven.
Maybe we should appreciate the fact that we do get to celebrate as we attend church services, look at our dwindling bank accounts, and deal with intermittant bursts of parking lot rage as we are out and about in the thickening traffic. Perhaps we should look at the dragging out boxes of Christmas decorations, wrapping paper, and lists of wants from our loved ones as a privilege and not a burden. We should enjoy with abandon the scents and tastes of the season, and sing along to our favorite Christmas music because we have senses to take it all in. We can allow our hearts to be filled with joy and appreciation for the blessings that we have...right here...and right now. But most of all...we should appreciate the true "reason for the season" and what this birth means for each of us who accept the gift that keeps on giving...life.