Friends: I wrote this post on Thursday of last week and even spent time patting myself on the back for getting the words lined up so early. So you should know that the idea of a scarred Christmas isn’t new at all. Some of this post is just relevant enough that I don’t think I will change any of what I wrote in the wake of the Connecticut shootings.
Right now I’m just weary of words and I don’t have any new ones. We have already had too many words trying to get this horror tamed in our minds. Just bear in mind that I know a sweater that doesn’t fit pales in comparison to an elementary school massacre. And rest easy that I’m not going to get all political on you today.
Christmas isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Now before you drag out the chains to tie me up and convict me of heresy, hear me out. Maybe I’m not talking about you and your family. I know you’re going to a lot of trouble to make this year’s Christmas the best ever. But for other people Christmas won’t be the perfect day they have hoped.
I’m sure your day will be perfect. After all, look at all the work you’ve put into it. You mailed the cards, decorated the house, made a spreadsheet of gifts and bought them all and paid for them and now they’re wrapped and all you have left is to make a delicious egg nog for Christmas Eve. But there are some people who are not as perfect as you.
Maybe they can’t get their finances to fluff out or get their family to suddenly become functional when it never has been before. We try to put it all on Hallmark’s shoulders, saying they created this greeting card fantasy Christmas but it’s everyone’s fault. Not only does the entire American economy pivot on this season but we see the past with rose-colored glasses then tell ourselves to top it. Then if and when the day doesn’t pan out to be perfect in our eyes, if the wrapping paper doesn’t glisten enough or family appreciate each other enough, we just dissolve into a puddle of failure. About 20 minutes after it’s over we find the day was not what we had hoped it would be and a black cloud of disappointment and unworthiness falls over us.
Is it any wonder that one of the most successful activities on Christmas Day has become going to the movies? Everyone sits in a dark room without interacting with each other in any way. This new technique allows you to be together but not really. It’s a great valve to let a little pressure off slowly and quietly. Everyone goes to separate corners. It’s nothing more than a Family-sized Time Out but with popcorn.
It’s amazing what the memory does in the eleven months that follow. It re-creates the day into something far more than it actually was.
None of this, by the way, is Jesus’ fault. We have to take full responsibility for what we’ve done: taking one single day and spending over a month preparing for it, spending every available dime on stuff nobody even needs then cramming every relative you have around a table filled with more food than you eat all year. Yes, this monstrosity of a day is all our own making. We have turned one single day into some magnificent dream that ends up being mostly a dream after all.
And where do the expectations come from? There’s a newsreel that runs constantly in the back of our minds playing home videos of years past with happy kids unwrapping presents under the tree. But our memories don’t play all of the videos. We forgot to take a home movie of the argument in the kitchen over the turkey or the kids fighting over the new Wii. We forgot to take a home movie of the two aunts who aren’t speaking to each other or the uncle who drinks too much. And there’s a lot of stuff that we don’t have a record of because you can’t film inside someone’s mind. The disappointment that a gift wasn’t the right color or the panic over the hot check you wrote on Christmas Eve.
Family dynamics are a tricky business on a good day. There is always a delicate balance of personalities within any group of more than two people. When you get a whole family together it becomes a circus act of walking a tightrope 50-feet in the air with no net. And their balance can be thrown off by almost anything. And this is on a GOOD day, people. Then, for Christmas you put more people onto the tightrope and make them put on a pink tutu like everybody else even though they would rather wear green spandex and you tell them to bring their own baggage and walk the tightrope carrying it. Then we ask everybody to sing and skip rope while they try to keep their balance. There’s no wonder the result ends up in a heap of pink tutus on the ground.
And we end up every year wondering why we do this to ourselves. Every year. Every family I know. OK, not every year, not every family. Some years are good and some bad. But here’s the problem: we forget.
We forget the bad years. Because memories are selective that way. Because nobody wants to replay the bad home movies in their head; they only want to repeat the good ones.
Somewhere along the road we started expecting each succeeding year to be better than the last one because like total idiots we think we’ve learned something. And we may have succeeded just enough to shoot ourselves in the foot, so to speak, to keep wishing each year to be better than the last. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a day, friends.
Beaven and I got to talking about the 40 plus Christmases we’ve spent together. Not every single one of them was as good as we had hoped. One Christmas Day my father was in the hospital recovering from surgery. We had more than one tense year because Beaven’s mother was mad about whatever she was mad about that year. A few years we ran on such a hectic schedule going to three houses in one day plus our own that it was mind-blowing and nobody ended up totally happy.
I know we aren’t the only people who have had the occasional miserable Christmas. For goodness sakes, people die on Christmas Day. I have one friend whose husband was murdered the week before Christmas and another one whose 16 year old son died in a horrible house fire just a few days before. And it was hell. Yet these same people went on to have other Christmas mornings that were filled with joy and laughter. Maybe not the same kind of joy as before but a more mellow joy, a repaired happiness kind of joy.
And none of this takes into account those individuals who will spend the day totally alone. I’m not talking about homeless people here. Because even the homeless have a community of sorts—a band of like-minded people who share the day with each other. I’m talking about people who don’t even have the community a homeless person has. There are some of us who for one reason or another don’t have any kind of family to share the day. The way we’ve evolved Christmas Day has declared them total failures. Do we really want to do this to each other?
Not every single Christmas can be perfect. But that doesn’t stop us from expecting it to be and then getting all pissed off when it doesn’t happen.
I call for a revolt. This insanity is not what Jesus would ask in His name.
Not that I want us all to take the presents back to the store or call up your aunt and tell her not to come. Let’s just take it down a notch. It’s just a day. Could we find it within ourselves to allow the day to maybe not live up to our expectations? Cut it a little slack? We could start small with just giving ourselves permission to be less than perfect. Just permission.
I’ll go first. Come on. It will be alright. Jesus will still get born. The Messiah will still come.
If you remember, Jesus did not come into the world expecting it to be perfect. His whole reason for coming was because the world is not perfect and needs someone to love us anyway.