I LOVE Christmas! I always have. In the early years of our marriage, I wore my poor, overworked, retail manager husband out by dragging him from one event to another. If the word "Christmas" was on the marquee, I didn't want to miss it. And Chuck just wanted to put up his feet whenever possible during the busiest shopping season of the year. As I've grown older and more tired, I have toned down my desire to go, go, go. But my enthusiasm for the holiday remains as high as ever. I love the music, the movies, the live shows, the presents and the decorations. I think I can trace my love affair with Christmas back to my childhood. I blame my parents. They were both school teachers, so they had a solid two weeks off from work every year. So my sisters and I not only got them to ourselves, but for 14 or more days, they had plenty of time for baking and wrapping and special events.
As I write this now, I am looking at my Christmas tree. It is so beautiful to me. I can't pretend it's always fun to put it up. Fluffing the branches of an artificial tree that has been stored in the attic for a year makes my top 10 list of un-fun things to do. And watching my husband's frustration level rise as we try to determine why yet another strand of lights is not working is no picnic. The finished product, however, fills me with joy. The warm lights are so inviting and the colors so festive, but it is the lifetime of memories held in the ornaments that pull at my heart strings. The dough ornaments I made with my mom and then made again with my step-son. The crocheted snowflake made by the busy hands of my late grandmother. The angels engraved with the names and birthdates of my daughters. The commemorative Hallmark ornaments my great-aunt gave me when I was a little girl. The elf in a boot that sat on my Aunt Katherine's coffee table that I just had to have at the age of 2. The picture of a preschool Allie Rose (she's 10 now), dressed as Mary. I could bore you to tears by going on and on. I even love the hideous ones that have to populate the back of the tree.
Because of my love for all things Christmas, I was appalled my first year with my husband and new step-son to learn how few Christmas carols 7 year old Chandler knew. So I made him a binder with the lyrics to dozens of songs printed out. I still have it and got it out to flip through today while studying my tree. (I warned you I was a nut for this holiday.) I stopped on "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas". The first verse in particular gave me pause:
"Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your heart be light,
From now on our troubles will be out of sight."
Hmmmm. It's just not true is it? Just because there are so many pretty things to look at this time of year doesn't mean that we can't see our problems too. So many songs and stories and movies set up an expectation for our celebration that just isn't attainable. Heck, here in Texas, even the weather can put a damper on your holiday spirits. It's hard to feel festive at 75 degrees in the shade. Right now, I'm reminded of the Christmas we didn't get our ornaments out of their boxes. We put up our tree and decorated it with teddy bears and other stuffed animals Shelby received while in the hospital. On December 5 of the year 2000, Shelby had her first grand mal seizure before she was even 5 months old. We spent several frightening days in the hospital running every test on her that we could imagine at the time. Blood tests, MRI's, cat scans, and spinal taps. In the end we had no real answers. Many scary seizures and anxious nights followed, and as we filled the tree with those gifts from concerned family and friends, our troubles were most definitely not out of sight.
It's hard to relate to the cheery lyrics we hear in every public building when you are facing the first Christmas without a loved one, an injury, an illness, a rebellious child, a job loss - or any number of scenarios. We have to remember that no matter what the lyrics say, Christmas doesn't come in a well protected bubble. It comes into this messy, broken world. In fact, that's why it comes. We celebrate Christmas because Christ was born to be the long-awaited Savior of this world. As Joseph was told by an angel concerning his future bride, "She will give birth to a son and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." Matthew 1:21(NIV) Even if things aren't perfect (and they never will be this side of heaven), we have much to celebrate. Jesus was born for you and for me. Immanuel - God with us. That's why, no matter what else is going on, I can still say, "It's the most wonderful time of the year".