Thirty years ago I loved everything about Christmas, firing up seasonal songs the first of November, singing along with off-key gusto when no one could hear, searching out the perfect gift for each special person on my long list. Some years my decorations were photo worthy, often designing gift-wrapping as personal to the recipient as the gift itself – and I baked.
Yes, Virginia, Lynn used to bake.
Christmas preparation lost its appeal when those who cared quit caring or passed on. Time and distance took their toll. Family isn’t as simple as it was, further complicated with each new branch or blend, competition for the presence of loved ones more intense as generations expand. We’ve had livestock most of our married life, unable to travel unless we could be home for late chores, which eliminated visits with 95% of the family.
Christmas was a big deal when I had a public training facility, barn roofs outlined in white lights, a huge star on the gable of the biggest barn, stockings hung with care on each stall door. Every gift I gave my clients was personal, one year pairing unique photo boxes or frames with a portrait of their horse in Christmas gear. No two gifts were ever the same. Almost twenty years later, I still have some Christmas gifts my Arizona clients gave me, now warm and treasured memories.
I used to love Christmas.
Humbug Grew with the Rise of Gift Cards
Times change, and with it the dawn of the era of gift cards. Kids and grandchildren seem to love them. Gift cards are convenient and economical in a day when it costs $40 to ship a $10 gift.
Gift cards – to me – are impersonal to a fault. The only effort involved is swiping one piece of plastic for another unless there’s more to the story. My grandmother was looney over Golden Corral, gift cards providing her the opportunity to indulge a personal passion.
For years my husband and I had the same pre-Christmas talk, “Are we going to buy gifts or send gift cards?” Unwilling to give up the illusion of Christmas-past, I rebelled against gift cards for several years. Eventually we gave up and sent gift cards to a few, then to all.
Christmas is Love
My husband and I celebrate Christmas every day, grateful for the gift of peace between sinful man and a holy God. It’s been years since we decorated for Christmas, no bits of wrapping paper or curled ribbon ends littering the floor or mouth-watering aromas of goodies cooling on the stove.
No one in the New Testament celebrated advent or Christmas. Gifts, galas, and glitter exploded in the last century, from humble homespun holidays to LED lights and songs about death-by-reindeer. As the secular grew and sacred evaporated, did we trade one kind of indulgence for another? Was there a smidge of holier-than-thou in our failure to participate, maybe an unrealized attempt to escape disappointment?
This year, I questioned if my non-celebration pendulum swung too far. Secular music is discordant, like fingernails on a chalkboard. Most of the people I shared Christmas with in past decades are gone. My husband isn’t into decor or trappings and neither of us has as much appetite (which isn’t a bad thing!)
It’s easy to do nothing and call it good. But what if it’s not?
The Thought Still Counts
Maybe all of you already know this. The concepts made sense to me, but this year they reached my heart.
Here’s what I’ve learned.
- What matters is the heart. Christmas is love.
- Experience the Gift of Christ personally and let everyone else celebrate the way they choose.
- DO NOT lay my humbug on anyone else’s shoulders.
We went from one holiday extreme to the other, realizing that balance is best. We cleaned out past remnants and discovered new relationships to celebrate. My transformation started last year when a friend gave me unexpected Christmas stocking and the biggest Whitman Sampler box available; a stupendously huge box.
Months earlier my friend asked me to share my favorite Christmas tradition or memory. It was the tiny Whitman Sampler in my Christmas stocking. She listened, remembered, and did something I never expected. Personal displays of love and regard are powerful, creating ripples of joy, creativity, and passing blessings along into eternity.
Never underestimate the effect of one thoughtful gesture.
I think the shock shook something loose. The spirit of Christmas seeped in. We’re coming back from the rock bottom of NO holiday to creating new traditions and memories with friends.
Releasing My Inner Child
Friends are becoming family, motivating us to share, shop, or make. To give. Not on a grand scale, mind you, but it’s delightful progress. As old traditions become memories, we slowly create new ones. Maybe you can’t go back, but you can go forward.
This year I say, “Merry Christmas” with more of what made it merry for me in the past and how I pray it’s merry for you. Christmas really is about children – or the childlike quality in people of every age who receive Christmas. My inner child was in detention for a while, but the lock is broken and sunlight streams in around the door.
Christmas Is What You Make It
Christmas is hope, peace, and love. It’s faith in the promise of God’s gift to mankind. It’s also the smell of gingerbread, pine cones, fir branches, mulled cider, and twinkling lights, delighting the senses and warming the heart. If gifts, galas, and glitter produce gratitude and bring families closer together, then I’m all for them.
Hobby Lobby’s Christmas theme this year is, “Christmas is what you make it.” The humbug in me thought, “What does that mean? Christmas is about Jesus.” The formerly humbug me appreciates the sentiment, because it’s true.
God is the Master of changing hearts and expectations, especially this time of year.
“God bless us every one.”