We usually try to get a real tree as soon after Thanksgiving as we can- this year I think we hauled the tree home on November 30th. Which is wonderful- I mean, let's get the joy of the Christmas season started as soon as possible! (Plus, if I'm being Scroogy and honest, let's keep a tree up as long as possible to get the most tree days for our money.) Unfortunately this year we did not manage to regularly water the tree. My husband only watered it twice, and I, um, didn't water it at all. To say that it is not its verdant best is an understatement. We can literally hear the tree dying. Seriously, we will be sitting in the living room, none of us within 5 feet of the tree, and it will spontaneously start shedding needles as though it just didn't have enough moisture to hold on any longer. It sounds like a flippin rain stick.
For future holiday parties I have some bagged gifts sitting patiently under the tree- those lucky recipients will also be the proud new owners of what I will festively call "Christmas potpourri", courtesy of our tree.
Anyway, sometimes I feel like Christmas itself is sort of crumbling a little early...like I want to hold onto the joy and the point of the season and the peace (such elusive peace), but its like I juuuuust caaan't quiiiite hold out through the whole month. I start unraveling a little bit too soon. I let myself get a little bit cynical, a little bit numb to the joy. I can tell something is wrong with me when I start getting even a little bit annoyed at the "Jesus is the Reason for the Season" message. I mean, sure it is, but its like Christmas is deliberately set up to distract me, and a slogan is not going to fix that for me.
Growing up I remember we would always have a Biblical message as part of our family Christmas, whether we were at home or away visiting relatives down south. And as much as I enjoyed pieces of the singing or the Spiritual reflections, all of us kids playing or singing some version of a Christmas song or reciting Luke 2 as a family, I remember really...reallllly... just wanting to open presents. And my kids are the same way. We have been doing our Bible Advent each night, and during random points in the day I'll catch myself peppering in obligatory phrases like, "Did you know we celebrate Jesus' birthday on Christmas?" or "You know, maybe we should give some things away to other people because of Christmas" or whatever. Why am I at all surprised when my 5 year old quickly changes the conversation, stating for the millionth time that she can't wait to open her presents.
Then there are just regular life disappointments, hurts, and frustrations that have the gall to show up THIS month, as though they don't realize we are in the middle of a joyous holiday and they are not appropriate or welcomed. And now I'm not only distracted from the "reason for the season", I'm also sometimes feeling a bit off emotionally, which must mean something is wrong if I can't access the obvious joy all around me 24/7. So Christmas feels a bit crumbly...like a bit of an un-winnable dichotomy.
But the message of Christmas is not one of forced joy. It does not mean choosing between gifts OR the baby Jesus. As one author (I can't remember) recently put it, the message is Christ WITH us- His presence IN us- with us at the shopping mall- in us through the chaos- with us in the trying to parent multiple children- with us in the joy of presents- with us on the sheer craziness of a 14+ hour road trip to see family- with us in the hurt and disappointment and real. life. issues. And there is real joy in that...even if it is not always bubbly, effervescent, laugh out loud joy. And that is just the way the Christmas tree crumbles.