Some dozen or so years ago Christmas was a much embellished affair at my house. I’d always loved decorating and wrapping gifts just so (this is an understatement). But as the years went by and as the demands grew I found myself increasingly dissatisfied with what Christmas was becoming and my bondage to it.
The straw that broke the camels back was the year my ex and I took our five kids to the dollar store. Each child had their gift list of some 20plus family members that they were going to get a gift for, and then their friends on top of this.
Now, I must say that teaching our kids to give gifts instead of focussing on receiving them was one of the really great things we did. For many years the children rarely thought or voiced what Christmas might bring them, rather it was always about their gifts to other people.
So the year that we realized that the dollar store could facilitate this gift giving in a fairly economical way was a bit of a eureka. And I still have fond memories of children with a basket in hand trying to shop for their siblings and parents while all in the same store at the same time.
It was later at home that it all unravelled for me. The next day or so and just in time for Christmas I found myself helping five children over the course of some six hours wrap and keep straight 300 gifts!
This on top of all the food preparations for our Christmas Eve dinners. On top of the shopping for our own five children, “Oh I found another gift for so and so, and now we have to find one more gift for the others so that they are all equal…” And so on brought me to a ‘no more’ in my spirit.
I just couldn’t do it any longer. Christmas had become way out of control and I just wasn’t enjoying myself any longer.
To confound the difficulty my ex was making decisions that then required me to carry the brunt of the work (of those decisions) and I was toppling under the loads.
So I began extricating myself. The camels back was broken.
Needless to say I began dialling back on what I was willing to do and be part of. It was a slow process. And a hurtful process for my ex. He couldn’t understand why I wasn’t in agreement anymore to some of the things we had most been about at Christmas.
But I just couldn’t do it any longer. And so I began to make Christmas what I wanted it to be, what I could be glad for and what didn’t kill me each year.
And in that process I learned that it needn’t all be done. I learned in fact that nothing need be done at Christmas. I learned that Christmas happens first and foremost in my heart and that all the rest is simply expression and worship.
Since then till now, for some years to this point, early in December I find a deep peace and quiet and worship descending into my inner being. My soul is bathed in holiness as the Lord presses in close. This to me is the heart of Christmas and sets the table for whatever else the season may hold.
As I’ve refused the craziness peace floods in.
I decided that what I really wanted to do was to buy one gift for each of my children. Instead of keeping tabs on numbers and dollars spent between them all, I would instead take a leisurely afternoon shopping and find one gift for each one that I wanted to give them.
No more shopping lists that makes me feel like I’m at the grocery store. No more requests filled out like I am a vending machine. Don’t tell me what you want, I want to surprise you!
So, for Christmas each year I’m simply in charge of making the 20 lbs of mashed potatoes for our family dinner. One year I took scads of pictures.
I might buy a few gifts (but even these last two years I’ve not had the funds to even do this). I put up a small tree.
And I might do some Christmas cards, every three years or so perhaps.
And guess what. My children still know I love them. Family is still there to hang with. We still eat just fine.
Christmas is now a true expression of the freedom and grace that Jesus Christ came to give. No longer is it wrung through with ought and should and exhaustion.
Instead there is freedom for my children to come and go throughout the day. There is peace and comfort in just being. We always have a great meal that is spread between all of us in the making.
It simply works.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way.