Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Jesus' Birthday, Part 2

Our problem with presents was mostly a matter of time. Typically, Dave has only a few days off in the month of December--early in December. He had no days off during the week of Christmas, including Christmas Eve. He worked serious hours, coming home long after the kids were in bed. Of course, we could open our gifts on Christmas morning--and we did--but this created an uncomfortable time crunch. Our goal was always to leave our house by mid-morning to make the 4-hour trip to my Gran's house in Virginia and be there in time for a late lunch. This meant that the whole morning was spent rushing. Rush to eat our special family breakfast, rush through reading the Christmas story, rush to unwrap presents, rush to pack the car, rush out the door. It wasn't the way we wanted Christmas to feel.

And did you catch where Jesus fit into that picture? Buried in the middle of a harried half-day. We wanted to do more. After all, Jesus is the hero of Christmas, the long-awaited King, finally arrived, to be marveled at and adored. Where could we find the time to do that?

In 2008, we did a little experiment and transferred the gifts out of Christmas Day. We bought presents and wrapped them early. We stuffed stockings early. We chose a day when Dave was off work early in December. And then, on a random Monday morning, when the rest of the world was headed off to work or school or Target, we opened our gifts as a family. We took our time, enjoying the privilege of giving to one another, as God has freely given to us. The kids got to play with their new toys. We didn't rush anywhere, at all. It was nice.

And when Christmas Day arrived, we spent the morning having our first Birthday Party for Jesus. It was very simple that year. There was a cake with candles. There was a more leisurely, sweet time to read through the Christmas story and talk with our kids about Jesus and why He came. That was nice too. And so in 2009, we did pretty much the same thing.

2010 rolled around, and we had a choice to make. This year was to be different in a couple of ways. One, no big Christmas production. Covenant Life took a more low-key approach this year, a more traditional Christmas Eve service, with singing, a simple Scripture reading, a choir, a sermon... and not much else. No drama meant no weeks of rehearsals. Dave was going to be home A LOT more this December. Secondly, Christmas would fall on a Saturday. That meant church (i.e., work) the next day, Sunday. This meant that we could not travel on Christmas Day; we needed to stay in town until Sunday afternoon, at least. This meant that we would be home all day on Christmas, a shocking and unheard of occurrence! So what would we do with all that time? Just the five of us, at home, all day... should we bring the presents back in?

* * *
Now here's something you need to know about me. I love gifts and gift-giving. I am not an anti-present person. I grew up in a home where we celebrated Jesus thoroughly and gave gifts generously. Though my parents taught us that Santa was a myth, our Christmas carried every bit of the magic that so many middle-class American kids experience. So taking the gift exchange out of Christmas Day has given me pause. Are we robbing our kids of their Christmas magic?

Then I think about what the "magic" really is. Isn't the real magic in the anticipation of something wonderful, and the joyful fulfillment of that anticipation? Isn't the magic about longing for something, hoping for something, and then seeing that something come to you? And doesn't the magic have a lot to do with a family being together on Christmas morning, and repeating much beloved-traditions? If the answer to these questions is yes, well...

Is there any more wonderful anticipation than the wait for our hearts' King?
Is there anything more joyful than the fulfillment of God's promise of a Savior?
Don't we want our own hearts, and our children's hearts, to long and hope for Jesus more than anything else?
Can we not create traditions that will exalt Jesus rather than our own material wishes?

I have a very distinct memory from one of my childhood Christmases. I must have been 8 or 10 years old. We had just returned from celebrating at my grandparents' home in Pennsylvania. The car was unpacked, the gifts unloaded. I was sitting at the top of the stairs in our old farm house, holding my brand new, much-desired American Girl doll, Samantha. She was the gift I had scarcely dared to hope I could receive, and here she was, in my arms. "Mom," I said, "I think this is the best Christmas ever." I believed the words were true when they left my mouth, but they sounded hollow in my ears. And I didn't have the wisdom to understand why my superlative rang false.

The "magic" of Christmas that resides in the gifts we give each other is a pretty thin magic, isn't it? We don't get what we hoped for. We get what we hoped for, and it breaks. We no sooner open our gifts than we start to eye what somebody else just opened. Or maybe we're grateful for what we receive, but we find ourselves thinking, "All that build-up... for this? This small (or big) pile of possesions? These few fleeting hours? Is it over already?"

* * *

It only took one conversation for Dave and me to decide that we did not want to open gifts on Christmas Day, despite the extra time. It was too special an opportunity, the gift of this whole day to focus on Jesus, to muddle it with the presents again.

I'm so glad we made that choice. I really liked the low-key nature of our gift exchange. There was no big build-up; one day the kids woke up, and we were like, "Guess what? We're opening presents today!" But instead of being the Day of Days, the culmination of the whole Christmas season, opening gifts was just one of the many special activities sprinkled throughout December. It took away from my sense of let-down too. Presents may have been over, but Christmas Day was still ahead...

And since we had a whole Christmas Day to fill and no gifts to take up the bulk of the time? We had lots more Birthday Party to plan.

(to be continued in another post...)

(This is the second in a series that began here.)

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