“To perceive Christmas through its wrappings becomes more difficult with every year.” E. B. White
I first noticed Christmas merchandise as I entered an air-conditioned store from the sweltering heat outside. Obviously retailers were signaling, “Have Yourself a Merry Big Christmas.” Their seasonal long jump contrasts with the historic “12 Days of Christmas” when the holidays began December 25 and the Christmas tree went up Christmas Eve (sometimes appearing overnight to the wonder of children). “Christmastide” was a time of feasting and celebrating that ended on January 6, Epiphany, when gifts were exchanged in memory of the wise men’s gifts to Jesus.
Today the 12 days of Christmas have morphed into months of preparation that divide the super-organized from the not-so. By mid-December the super-organized will have:
- Sent out 100 Christmas cards with hand-written notes. (If this seems excessive, the record that an individual sent is 62,824.)
- Decked the yard in lights and inflatable figures that collapse in a puddle at night (?) and trimmed several trees using different themes from last year.
- Bought the gifts (by August) and have them wrapped with hand-painted paper and hand-tied bows a la Martha Stewart.
- Given and/or attended parties, programs, and the annual production of the Nutcracker.
- Baked dozens of Christmas cookies for friends and relatives and made a gingerbread house—without using graham crackers.
Did you find yourself in this list? Me neither. By mid-December most of us won’t be ready for Christmas. But somewhere between the rushing toward readiness and the arrival of C-Day we may realize much of it wasn’t really necessary anyway. What matters is that we don’t lose the joy of the season we celebrate Christ’s birth. That joy doesn’t come to us because we’re done; sometimes it comes with what we’ve left undone.
Henri Nouwen wrote: “I know that somehow I have not fully come to believe that urgent things can wait while I attend to what is truly important. It finally boils down to a question of deep and strong conviction. Once I am truly convinced that preparing the heart is more important than preparing the Christmas tree, I will be a lot less frustrated at the end of a day.”
So my wish for you this year is that (as the British say) you will “be calm and carry on,” that you will have a prepared heart as you keep Christ in Christmas, and that you will have a joyful little Christmas.
Copyright 2014 by Vicki Huffman
Join us daily as we celebrate Christmas with our annual 12 Days of Christmas series.