I started boxing up the Christmas decorations yesterday, Dear Ones. I like to de-Christmasfy the house the same way I Christmasfy it: slowly. One mustn’t rush these things.
Each and every decoration is lovingly tucked away like a special friend. Most of these items have a story that goes along with them. The little wooden soldiers that I can’t bear to part with, I bought at the Fruth Pharmacy my first Christmas as Jeff’s wife. Decorating for Christmas was still new to me then. The Cat’s Meow Christmas Village, my mother-in-law gave to me early in my marriage, in honor of the many trips to New Orleans her son and I have taken. The red berry topiaries, I coveted for years before I finally felt comfortable splurging…and then during an end of season sale. I bought my first nativity as a young wife. And it still feels new to me every year when I put it out.
Over the years, my views on Christmas traditions have evolved. I’ve had to reconcile some conflicted emotions regarding the holiday. The extravagance and pagan roots have occasionally slapped me in the face in the midst of the holiday cheer, and I have found myself thinking, “What am I doing?” or “This is insane.”
These little dissonances came to the surface this year, refusing to be ignored, demanding that I clarify my views. I was forced to do a bit of self examination shortly before Christmas. I was finishing up some last minute shopping when my husband called me on my cell.
“Your mom is on her way here,” he said.
I felt panic course through my body.
“She just called and said they were ‘right up the road’. She’ll be here in a few minutes.”
My mind was racing.
I couldn’t seem to get anything out except one syllable words.
“She has some books for the boys she wants to drop off. They’re on their way to Tennessee and were just stopping along the way.”
I was 25 minutes away, at Macy’s; looking at some exquisite crystal cognac glasses to go along with that special bottle ofspirits we had bought for my father-in-law.
“Tell her I’ll be right there.”
I was like a fireman going to a fire. As I raced toward the emergency, my mind was flooded with fears.
She would see my Christmas tree. She would see my red berry topiaries. She would see the first nativity, so lovingly placed in a place of prominence. Suddenly, all of the holiday preparations I had joyfully made seemed dirty and trite. I saw them through my mother’s eyes.
You see, Dear Ones, my mother is a Jehovah’s Witness, and so is most of my family. I was raised in this faith, and I never celebrated the birth of our Savior as a child. I was taught that this celebration was wrong and displeasing to God.
My mother and I have always had an unspoken agreement. Don’t ask, don’t tell. If she stays away from our home during the holidays, she will not have to deal with the discomfort that our celebration evokes. And so, this has always been the case. We celebrate with Jeff’s family, and the absence of my relatives has become slightly less painful over the years. My children respect my mother’s beliefs, though I’m not sure they understand them; and they have ceased the questions pertaining to her absence during all the major holidays, including their birthdays.
But she was on her way here. Worse yet, I was 25 minutes away and couldn’t run interference. My poor husband had to deal with this unusual circumstance all alone.
I drove faster.
But I was too late. By the time I made it home, she was gone. She and my stepfather left ten to fifteen minutes before my arrival, stating they were in a hurry, didn’t want to get caught driving in the dark, etc., etc.
I was deflated. The fact she couldn’t wait a few minutes longer to see her daughter hurt immensely. The old ache emerged. But this time, it felt different. There was no shame. Only sorrow. The guilt was gone. I felt no need to defend my beliefs, as I have in the past.
I know why I celebrate Christmas, Dear Ones. I know that Jesus was probably born in the spring or summer, not the dead of winter. I know that the wise men were not present on the night of His birth; that it probably took them many months to travel from the east. I do not place His birth above His death, which He commanded us to commemorate. I do not worship a tree, nor do I go into debt by getting caught up in finding the perfect gifts for my loved ones. I know the origin of many of the traditions associated with this season. Jesus is the center of this celebration, not because it is His actual day of birth or because He desires us to celebrate this day, but because I choose to put Him there.
When I hang my lights on the tree, He is there: the Light of the world. When I give and receive the gifts of the season, He is there: God’s greatest Gift to us. When I sing the carols and gather with friends, He is there: the embodiment of Love.
Beloved, God sees our hearts. Christmas in my heart looks like Jesus. I can say this in all honesty. I can say this with sincerity and passion. All of the years that I did not celebrate Christmas have made my Christmas celebrations all the more special.
My mother called me later that day to say she was sorry she missed me. I wanted to tell her that I was sorry if our decorations offended her or her husband. I wanted to tell her that it was ok.
Instead, I just said I’m so sorry I missed you too. And I love you. I love you, mom.