“Christmas is a season for kindling the fire for hospitality in the hall, the genial flame of charity in the heart. Washington Irving
My gene pool generously blessed me with an extra dose of perfectionism. I came by it honestly. I’m still recovering. In case you think perfectionism is a positive trait, it’s not. It’s a disposition that regards anything short of perfection as unacceptable. Basically it means that you’re never quite satisfied with what you create or achieve.
For many years I strove for a perfect Christmas. There was a looming vision in my brain of all the necessary holiday components.
The Perfect Christmas would include a classic family Christmas photo sent to 100 of our closest friends, family and acquaintances. We’d host our annual neighborhood Christmas party and create teacher gifts for four children’s multiple teachers. There were the Advent readings, the lighting of the Advent candles, the neighbor gifts, the friend gifts, the five big boxes of gifts mailed to loved ones far away. There were the presents for our kids, and multiple small wrapped ones for their stockings. I remember speeding through it all and finally sitting down to enjoy our decorated fresh fir only after the whir of the holidays was over. Don’t get me wrong–I loved these activities—they were all meaningful. But they needed to be toned down. And I needed balance so I’d be able to maintain true peace and joy!
Life happened and settled me into my rightful place. One year we asked our neighbor to snap a picture of all six of us- posed on our swing set! Back in the pre-digital day I imagined a perfect family pic, although I wouldn’t see it for days. I opened the CVS envelope and my idealistic little brain had a jolt. I almost tossed it in the trash. Then my epiphany came. That picture showed exactly who we were at that point in time. A dutiful daddy who’d comply with my wishes, a mama sitting on the see-saw, smiling, with her eyes closed, a teenager who clearly wanted to be anywhere else, a silly little towheaded boy who wouldn’t smile, but could make the funniest faces, a compliant sweet little girl with reddish blond hair and a daughter with autism, who was probably the best behaved. It was awful. Believe it or not, I actually sent that picture. I included my Christmas epiphany about receiving Jesus- the Perfect Gift of Christmas- even in our imperfect state.
One Christmas we found ourselves in The Middle of Nowhere, Tennessee. It was dusk and cold and gray. It seemed that ours was the only car on the entire highway. I recall a measure of panic when I realized we had nothing to eat. No restaurants were to be seen, but finally we found a service station open and we promptly bought peanut butter and crackers and something to drink. It may seem silly now, but at the time, I had a revelation about Christmas; the first Christmas. What did Mary and Joseph have to eat for dinner? Certainly not the abundant fare we Americans enjoy. I’m guessing it more closely resembled our humble cracker meal. It may have included dried fruit, nuts and bread of some sort. That Christmas, I’d thought to bring stocking gifts for the children. I can still see them sitting on motel beds, excitedly opening their little gifts. It’s always been one of my favorite Christmas memories. Simple and meaningful.
It became harder to get the family together for a picture. I learned that a Walmart card would do! Another year I decided not to send cards, and Christmas still happened! Then there was the Christmas when our downstairs furniture was in a POD because of a recent flood. Underfoot was mostly sub-flooring. That year we sat on the floor with blankets. We didn’t buy a tree, We celebrated by filling stockings, attaching them to string and hiding them as we’d always done.
Through the years, I’ve finally realized that Christmas is about more than the doing and buying and going. Today it’s December tenth and my house is a mess, with scattered assorted decorating supplies. No baking or wrapping or card addressing has happened. There was a time when this situation would have freaked me out. But, not to worry, I’ll get the necessary things done eventually. In the meantime, I’ll ponder the true Reason, cherish time with loved ones and light the Advent candles. I’ll look for opportunities to bless the needy instead of just blessing the blessed. We’ll enjoy our simple traditions and meals and moments together. The years have taught me to have grace for myself. Maybe I’ll even send New Year’s cards this year!
“The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.”
C.S. Lewis “Mere Christianity” (1952)