I’m alone again on Christmas day. I’m sitting in a hotel room thousands of miles from my family waiting for their video call so I can watch the kids open their presents. It doesn’t sound like much of a Christmas, but in some ways, the solitude has helped me reconnect with the real meaning of Christmas.
When did we begin to expect so much from the Christmas season? When did Christmas become a time to outdo your neighbor with synchronized lights and oversize inflatable lawn ornaments? What happened to simply gathering around the piano with your family and singing Christmas carols? Nowadays simply putting up a tree and sending out a few Christmas cards isn’t enough. We have to decorate the house with hundreds (or sometimes thousands) of lights. We have to put up the perfect tree adorned with properly spaced ornaments of matching colors. We have to erect an entire Dickens Christmas village that takes over the entertainment center. We have door hangars that make noise and jingles bells every time the door is opened. We have life-sized Santa dolls that dance and sing to popular Christmas tunes. We even have costumes for our dogs. Decorating for Christmas is an event unto itself.
Next, we bury each other in treats. We get plates of cookies, fudge, and toffee. We get cheese balls, popcorn, and homemade salsa. We get muffins, cupcakes, and fresh bread. We get candy, fruitcake, and hot chocolate mixes. We are inundated with scrumptious morsels of all types. Every time the doorbell rings, we all get excited to see what special treat our friends and neighbors are dropping off. Unfortunately, I can’t possible run enough miles to keep from gaining ten pounds from all the goodies.
In return, our family makes Christmas jelly, a bright red cranberry/raspberry spread that makes even the plainest bagel look like a Christmas treat. We have to start stocking up on jars in October, and buy several pounds of sugar just to meet the demand. We set aside a night or two on the calendar for production. We bring the mixture of juice and pectin to a rolling boil, and then add a mountain of sugar. We fill jar after jar with the hot syrupy mixture until we have cases of little red jars stacked and ready for delivery. Then we listen to the popping sound of the well-sealed lids. My wife puts special labels with holiday wishes on each of the lids. We have to guard the stuff so the kids don’t eat it all themselves.
Ah Christmas! It’s the most wonderful time of the year, right?
This year the frenetic pace of things didn’t put me into the Christmas spirit. The Christmas season is always a busy time of year in the travel industry, and this season, I worked a lot. Because I was working a lot, and my wife was not at her usual superwoman strength, we struggled to get everything done. We put up the tree and a couple of nativity scenes, but passed on the Dickens village. We passed on the Christmas card because we could never find the time to get a photo of the entire family. I never could find the time to hang all of the lights and too cheap to hire professionals, I hired my fifteen-year old son to hang them. Due to several days of unusual rain, a myriad of broken lights, and his inexperience, the lights don’t quite look the same this year. I had to be satisfied with half-hung Christmas lights.
Since I was going to be gone Christmas Eve and Christmas day, I hurried to finish shopping, wrapping, and stuffing stockings before I left for a four-day trip on the 22nd. Instead of feeling a sense of sadness as I left the house, I felt a sense of relief. I was leaving behind the stress of Christmas.
Now, in the solitude of my hotel room, I miss my family, but I have had time to reflect on the story of Christ’s birth and its significance. I have put aside all the worldly trappings that worry us and make the season stressful. I have reread the Christmas story found in the Holy Scriptures. I have enjoyed a friendly Christmas breakfast with coworkers. I have quietly reflected on the love I have for my wife, my children, and my extended family. I have felt the spirit of Christmas.