- Decorating the Christmas tree–so many memories there: my childhood, my mother, my kids’ pictures, ornaments from all our vacations, marriage ornaments, little nativities; the lights, the smell, the ribbons. Love, love, love it. I have a tree in almost every room. I always put up at least 2 big trees, sometimes 3.
- Reading the Christmas story in Matthew and Luke. I tear up every single time. And this will be a sign to you . . . and you shall call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins. . . . Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth, good will toward men.
- Buying my kids what they want instead of what they need (or a combination of both!); when they were little, we finally solved the “one more gift” cycle by settling on 3 individual gifts per kid from us: something they want, something they need, and a surprise. They were equally excited about each category. (The “something they need” category was never underwear or anything. Usually a bike or new cleats, or something cool like that.)
- Another year married to my husband (Our anniversary date is Dec. 22). We usually eat a fancy dinner downtown and spend the night. Our anniversary is a lovely reminder about grace and joy.
- Christmas music. I can’t get enough of it. Although, I do get frustrated with the radio stations, who apparently have to play “The Little Drummer Boy,” “Jingle Bell Rock,” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” about a million times a day. There are thousands of Christmas songs, people. Play them all. Yes, even “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” I love that one. And “Mary, Did You Know?”makes me cry every time I hear it. And then there’s The Messiah. Now I’m weeping. Can’t stop singing it in my head. Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
- Vacation time. We sleep late, sit around in our jammies, eat big breakfasts, and stay up late watching movies. It’s Saturday every day, minus the chores. Even better if we can slip in some skiing or a field trip. Best of all, there’s lots of reading time and game time, my faves!
- Christmas lights. In Richmond, I like the Tacky Light Tour, Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens, the Jefferson Hotel, and the Omni Center, for starters. Downtown is especially nice with the Capital tree and a horse and buggy ride over cobblestones. It all feels quite Dickensesque, which brings me to my next category.
- Christmas stories. I can’t get enough of them. I see a Christmas show or two. I skim or watch some version of “A Christmas Carol”; then I add “It’s a Wonderful Life” (even better at the Byrd Theater), and “When Harry Met Sally” for New Years. We put “White Christmas,” “Home Alone,” “The Grinch,” “Elf,” and a few others through the movie rotation, but we don’t watch them all every year. And, of course, we hit the movie theater as a family a few times for new releases, invariably a new Star Wars movie or a musical. (Not Christmasy, but a necessary part of our routine.)
- Cookies–more than one kind at a time! (Heaven.) And fudge. And peppermint bark and frosted pretzels and hot chocolate. And when the kids were little, we always made a gingerbread house from scratch. All this eating is delightful, of course, but for me, but I enjoy the baking more. I stand in my kitchen in my Christmas apron stirring and pulling trays of cookies out of the oven, and my sons file through snitching and snacking and hugging me as they pass. Pure bliss.
- Family videos. Somehow, these don’t get watched during the year. After the kids grew up (and we stopped videoing them), we began pulling out the family videos on Christmas Day. A video starts up, and with a simple flash of a T-ball uniform or a bike with training wheels, and the alligator tears start rolling. I curl up in a pathetic, grieving posture, a mix of smiles and tears, and latch on to the nearest man-child. My kids make fun of me, but I tell them, “You’ll see! You’ll feel the same way some day!” All those little boy voices, the chubby cheeks, the myriad of Christmas mornings! I’m almost teary thinking about it now. Nothing is more sentimental and filled with blessing than a moving reel of your actual life, with the pain edited out.
I guess that’s what Christmas is. We try to edit out the year’s hardship, the failures and painful interactions, the disappointments and regrets. We think about the New Year coming, and we vow we will be better. We fight the gloom of empty places at Christmas dinner and loved ones who’ve moved on to greater blessing. We lean into the sadness out of reverence to them, but the spirit of Christmas pulls us gently forward. Christmas is the promise of peace and goodwill, a hiatus from fear and failure. We can’t help moving with it.
I’ll bet Mary felt the same way about Christmas Day (aka “day of first labor and delivery” + a barn + angelic heavenly host + excited strangers). She experienced the joy and wonder of Jesus’ birth, and I’ll wager she struggled to sweep aside the fears. She pushed back the questions What will happen to him? and How will he save us? and How will people treat him? She breathed in the wonder of his arrival and embraced the promise of his life.
Joy. Peace. Hope. Love. Salvation for all of us.