I spent my formative years living in a rural community, occasionally spending Christmas in my grandparents’ home. In my grandparents’ modest formal living room, gifts sat under the Christmas tree, spreading out and over much of the living room space. My grandmother worked hard to spoil her grandchildren at Christmas.
One Christmas at my grandparents’ home stands out because of my poor behavior. I had not slept to speak of as the time to “get up” grew closer. I had actually been out of bed off and on throughout the night, trying to discern what I was getting for Christmas that year. The excitement in the air was almost palpable.
As the sun managed to inch its way into the sky, I hit the living room in a blaze of glory because trying to see things in the dark when I was up through the night hadn’t gone well; I was concerned. As my parents wandered sleepily into the living room, I brazenly said, “Is this all?”
Needless to say, the remainder of the morning didn’t go much better. My disappointment was evident, and my behavior was hurtful. Others had not lived up to my expectations. All the “loot” I had anticipated didn’t materialize as I had dreamed it would.
Reflecting on Christmases past, I must confess to lingering disappointment. There was always something else I wanted, or there would be something under the tree that made no sense to me. Who wanted a “Toss Across” game? I know I didn’t!
Christmas and Maturing
I matured into young adulthood often feeling the same way. Whether the gift count was high or low, I consistently searched for something else. I remained commercially minded, concerned only with what I was going to receive. I never thought about what I gave. Getting married and having children began to shift my thinking a bit.
As my children aged, I anxiously anticipated their delight as they tore open gifts and tossed wrapping paper. I also occasionally saw a younger version of myself when they opened a gift that made no sense to them. Their grandmother just knew they wanted those girlie coats for Christmas, but my kids missed the memo.
As a man living fully into his middle age, my perspectives on Christmas have changed. A number of years ago, I encountered the liturgical calendar, a planner of sorts, organizing the holy days, celebrations, and seasons in various denominational expressions. One such season is Advent.
As the days shorten through the fall months, the temperature begins to change, and Christmas suddenly appears on the horizon. According to the liturgical calendar, Christians anticipate the season of Christmas through the weeks of Advent. The word advent comes from the Latin adventus, meaning coming or visit. In other words, Christmas is coming!
My wife, Rebecca, and I consciously worked to cultivate gratitude in our children as they aged. We tried to help them understand the joy of giving to others. My daughters came to realize that the gifts they received spoke as much (or more) about the giver.
My daughters would squeal with delight as Christmas grew closer. You could almost hear them ask, “Is it here, yet, daddy? When is it coming?” My daughters are now grown women, living their own lives, and still anticipating Christmas, but without the intensity of their youth. They no longer squeal with delight but their joy is no less. As we’ve all matured, we’ve become more settled—balanced maybe.
Balance becomes more important to me as I age. I must be careful to balance the secular aspects of Christmas (shopping, traffic, and wrapping paper) with the spiritual elements of the Incarnation, grace, and mercy. If I err, I want the weight of the scale to tip toward the spiritual side. Prayerfully, perhaps I can approach the Christmas celebration with a renewed childlike wonder and amazement, not centered on the gifts but focused on the magnificent love God has for all of us.
It’s taken many years but I’ve managed to learn not to associate Christmas and disappointment. With God’s grace and divine sense of humor, I’ve grown to anticipate the joy of the season. I look forward to watching my wife’s face when she opens gifts, regardless of the giver. My children make me laugh at Christmas. When I pause to reflect, the season reminds me God’s love and mercy, grace sent through his son, Jesus.
What do you anticipate this Christmas? Are you looking forward to family gatherings, large quantities of food, and myriad presents, or will you swing your pendulum the other way, ignoring the secular aspects of Christmas, struggling to embrace the spiritual because that’s what “you’re supposed to do?”
Honestly, I don’t think God begrudges our enjoyment of Christmas using presents and food. On the other hand, I suspect God would rather we approach the season anticipating Jesus’ birth.