I haven’t tried yet to completely explain myself about Christmas. I go along as the butt of jokes my sons make about how we don’t celebrate Christmas. It’s not true, entirely, but it might look that way to most people and maybe to them. The best way I can say it is that over the past few years, I’ve lost my tolerance for contriving Christmas. I didn’t say I grew to hate Christmas. Even as Thanksgiving approaches I start feeling the giddy joy of the Christmas season. I look forward to gatherings with friends and family, relishing the preparation of special foods. I get thrilled at the first sightings of Christmas trees and snow, the playing of favorite recordings of songs and movies. That’s all normal, right?
All through the advent season I get stopped dead in my tracks at found Christmas beauty. It can be the simple interplay between a bare branch with white berries against a foggy fence post, a performance of a piece of traditional music, a gathering of friends and family that comes together so perfectly you know you just “had Christmas”. There is was. It happened right there. I have a lot of Christmas in December. It happens upon me almost daily and I’m really full, and reflective, and happy.
The problem, and this is only from the perspective of Christmas traditionalists, is Christmas Day. This is the part about losing my tolerance. For the most part, I don’t want any of the “stuff” of Christmas Day: the big tree gift exchange, massive family gatherings where there are awkward expectations and too much of everything. None of that feels to me like an apt conclusion to a really lovely few weeks of advent.
So I guess we have a fairly austere Christmas Day. While we know families all over the world are tearing into mountains of wrapped packages, we get up and enjoy the morning, cooking a good breakfast and eating together. My sons say that we clean the house for Christmas. We do tidy up because having the house clean and simple enough to really enjoy the ambiance of a tree, or some outdoor branches, or lit candles is what sets it up. We often have a walk, and then we cook a lovely dinner. There is one more nonnegotiable: we listen to choral music. Getting lost in the mysterious complexity of choral performances, whether modern or The Messiah, takes my mind in many directions as I appreciate our beautiful surroundings, the good people who envelope us, and the pleasure of working and making. Keeping Christmas a little austere feels very full to me.
So I bravely follow my intuition with this. Every year I get a little criticism. People may think I am depriving my children of Christmas traditions, but I hope I am actually modeling to them to see a lot of Christmas at many moments and to deeply appreciate what we already have, along with pondering the ongoing mysteries of Christmas Day.