Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Two different kinds of Christmases

It's Christmas Eve and I am enjoying this moment to relax and revel in my favorite evening of the whole year, nestled up with my blanket near the fire and the Christmas tree. Earlier we went to the candle light Christmas Eve service and sang favorite carols (including my favorite, O Holy Night) and hugged friends, then came home to sing a few more carols together as a family after dinner and read some Christmas books (the Little Drummer Boy, If You Take A Mouse to the Movies, and the Nutcracker are favorites). We did the last day of the Advent calendar, and the girls helped wrapped a few presents and helped me make Spanish bar cake (for Dad) and peach pie (for B.).

Now the girls are tucked in bed and I wanted write about what's been in my mind on and off the past few days, and really came into focus with the message tonight at church. How there are two very different kinds of Christmas, and I love them both. Technically I suppose there three types of Christmas: the first one I don't like is commercial Christmas. We try to fight this by giving gifts to Angel Tree and Christmas Child ministries and emphasizing to the kids how helping others and making homemade gifts from our heart are the best gifts, not the latest toys and gadgets.

The second Christmas is the magical one: the Christmas classic movies like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman and It's a Wonderful Life and the most magical story of all (in my opinion!) the Nutcracker.  Giant growing Christmas trees and toy soldiers battling mice! A broken nutcracker turned into a Prince and candy and toys coming to life! It's like becoming small enough to climb right into a Christmas tree and be completely surrounded by the magic. I get this same delicious feeling in decorating my own house, and visiting other decorated houses full of twinkling lights and garlands and Christmas cards, and lush Christmas parties with all the fixings.

This magic can be a little fickle, though. Some years (like this year in particular for me), it feels lovely one moment, and empty the next. Can one burn out on all the trimmings? One can certainly feel disillusioned by it.  A death in the family can set all the beloved traditions awry.

B.'s mom died in March and this is our first Christmas without her, and also, because of B.'s new job and limited time off, the first year we haven't been able to visit our out-of-town family for either Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year's. One of his sisters and her family was going to visit us for Christmas but they had to cancel. So I've been feeling isolated and blue. Blaze and Dreamer actually did all the Christmas decorating because I couldn't summon any motivation for it. I did get a tree and set it in a stand, but the girls put the lights on it and decorated it. Dreamer asked me when we start doing the Advent calendar together (we have an elaborate home made version) and I kept saying "okay, we'll start tomorrow night" - when I finally joined them one night I was humbled to see that the girls had been hanging all the little figures and their accompanying verses without me for the first 12 days.

The Christmas that always feels real and true, and deeply beautiful (not just sparkly beautiful), is the stark Christmas, the First Christmas where travelers were not welcomed when they arrived (the message at church tonight was about this, how Joseph and Mary were likely rejected because of the scandal about her pregnancy before marriage). Their baby was born in a stable. There were no family or friends, there were no decorations, there was no feast, there was no celebration, at least not on earth.

The angels were the only ones to rejoice and sing, and the star shining in the sky was the only decoration. The shepherds were more terrified and awed than they were full of celebration.

I feel closest to this true Christmas when I have struggled with bleakness. The house is far more bright and warm and cozy when outside the winter is cold and snowy, and Christmas is purer when the need for a Savior's birth is deeper.

Having struggled (not this whole Christmas season, but parts of it) with feeling disheartened and bleak, this old carol I've never really paid attention to before suddenly came to mind. When I looked up the lyrics I discovered it was a poem written by Christina Rossetti. The first stanza is the one I vaguely remembered, but I was startled to discover the rest of the lyrics, how glorious they are.

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk,
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air -
But only His mother
In her maiden bliss
Worshiped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man
I would do my part;
Yet what I can, I give Him -
Give my heart.

1 comment:

  1. Hoping you had a blessed day yesterday despite your losses of this past year. Love this old Christmas hymn you posted :) I think as we get older we tend to put Christmas into a different perspective I"m much more into thinking on the Savior and others rather than on the "perfect" gifts for the family. And we've learned to set boundaries with extended family so that we (the 4 of us) can be closer emotionally during this holiday. Hard to explain here in a comment but I could relate to much of what you wrote. Have a blessed new year.