Throughout my adult life, I’ve had a conflict with Christmas.
There were the “social constructivist” years, in which I was loathe to celebrate the holiday because I believed it was nothing more than a modern American holiday celebrating sentimentality and excess. I was so much fun to be around.
There were the “socially conscious” years, in which I believed that at Christmas, the only redemptive thing to do was to celebrate Jesus by donating to non-profits instead of buying actual gifts. I think my siblings are still enjoying their “share of a dairy cow.”
There were the “buy local” years, in which I thought that supporting local artisans would be as ethical as donating to orphans in sub-Saharan Africa. I’m a sucker for malnourished people.
Then there was last year, when I abandoned all of that and just gifted the people I love with things I thought they would like. Only to find out that Christmas is not a time when you can just get gifts for people you love. There’s a list of other people (many of whom you do not know personally) who must be given gifts and it’s actually pretty awkward when you don’t. Trust me. You are not in college anymore. You can’t scrimp on Christmas gifts.
Now there’s this year. The year I set out to make peace with the reality of Christmas. And so I found myself at 9:45 on a Sunday morning standing in Macy’s looking for some way to get all the gifts on my list for less money than the cost of insulating our entire house. Which is also happening this month.
We did it like pro’s too. We got there early and snagged a prime spot. We waited for stores to open. And hunted for deals.
Because I don’t have enough money to buy a whole Christmas list of fair trade artisan goods. At least not the kind that people actually like. I can’t afford to donate enough to World Vision to get “plush goat toy gifts” for all the kids on my list. So Amazon.com and North Star Mall and one day trip to Fredericksberg later…I was done (thank goodness for 10,000 Villages, a pleasant and ethical resource, but only for the adult women on your list).
And then…I gift wrapped the suckers. (Caveat: this year’s ethical effort is recycled wrapping. All of my presents are wrapped in reused paper grocery bags and yarn. But I’m telling people we were going with the theme, “Brown paper packages tied up with string.”)
Because part of being an adult is that you don’t get to bring a manifesto instead of presents. You don’t get to show up with a treatise on the rampant materialism and excess of America instead of a baked goods. You don’t get to ruin how everyone else celebrates Christmas, and if you want to be a part of it (meaning you want to share in the relationships forged over shared meals and memories), you have got participate. Without being “that sister/cousin/niece/grandkid.” Without being disdainful.
And in the true spirit of American Christmas, I got carried away. I made an impulse buy for my unborn daughter (not on my list)… at Restoration Hardware Baby and Child, all the while worrying that I would never be able to create a family Christmas tradition focused on Jesus and generosity. Wondering how I would mold her young mind to resist the siren song of greed…I bought her two $18 toys from the single most pretentious children’s catalogue on earth.
So I did Christmas like America does Christmas…and yet…
I also got an adult-sized portion of Christmas shame this time around (from myself, no one in their right mind shames a working, pregnant woman for this stuff). No Christmas cards went out from our mailbox. No lights wrapped around our porch. No nativity is set out on our dining room table. There’s not a pine needle to be seen in this house. Nothing has been (or will be) baked and distributed to mailmen, cleaning helpers, neighborhood patrolmen, and co-workers. I didn’t even deliver grapefruit this year.
In a lot of ways, I felt like I failed at Christmas. I failed at the principled Christmas of my past and the commercial Christmas of my present. I haven’t been warm and fuzzy, and I haven’t really paid that much attention to Jesus.
And that is why Christmas is for grownups like me. For us, Christmas isn’t magical. It’s not warm and fuzzy. It’s stressful. It’s conflicted. It’s expensive. And we can’t possibly pull it off flawlessly with joy in our hearts, goodies in our ovens, all the while remembering the “reason for the season.”
Christmas, this year, rather than being this ultra reflective time of special devotionals, and Hark the Herald Angels Sing, and finding that perfect non-profit to bless…was a mess. It damn near slipped by without my even noticing, but for the full calendar of holiday parties. I certainly didn’t slow down and reflect on advent.
This Christmas, I needed Christmas. I needed Jesus, because I can’t even celebrate his birthday well. This Christmas I got to remember why God had to come down to earth in the first place.