It’s that time of year again. The stores have started an endless round of Christmas carols and the streets in town are lined with lighted wreaths. In the evening — which comes earlier and earlier — there are brightly-colored bushes and trees and roofs. Where never before was there a personality, suddenly a pop-up Santa and a snow globe rocking horse appear.
The pressure’s on and the countdown has begun.
I’ve made my list, and I’ve checked it twice to make sure I’ve accounted for the many people we buy gifts for. I’ve marked catalogs and purchased gift cards and come up with some pretty snazzy photo gifts for grandparents.
I’m left, in the beginning days of Advent, wishing it was all over. I’m wondering, as we prepare for the joy of the season, where the joy can be found. I’m tired, on only the second day, and wondering if I could leave the country and return on January 2nd.
Every year, I battle Bah-Humbug. I find it in the discussion about when we’re going to put up decorations and in the struggle not to see Advent as just the time to get all the details lined up. I am surrounded by it in the juggle to buy gifts for people I’d like to just spend time with instead. I grow weary, and it infects me when I’m not looking, filling me with resentment and memories and a longing.
I long for the days of Christmas being about whether it will snow and which of the far-away relatives we’ll get to see. I remember days with less money and more meaning, with less rushing and more spending time together, with less cynicism and more belief. I don’t find those sepia-colored ideals in all of my memories, but I find them when I think about what I would like Christmas to be about and in those memories that I most cherish.
It’s right before Thanksgiving that the Bah-Humbug bites. Inevitably, in the discussions about food and family, there’s an anticipation about when we’ll celebrate Christmas. And then we have to discuss who’s going to host. And then we have to talk about the exchange or the price limit or none of that.
There’s a part of me that just loves buying gifts. I love finding just the right thing. The problem is that it’s a big list. And, inevitably, I just don’t have time (OK, truth time: I don’t start in July) or energy to do justice of what I envision. (I’m out to solve world hunger, remember?) Part of the Bah-Humbug is filled with disappointment in my own inability to fulfill my expectations for a slam-bang Christmas gift-giving experience.
My standard reply about Christmas is that I hate it. But, as my husband has pointed out to me time and again, that’s not true. That’s the Bah-Humbug talking.
The truth is, I do love Christmas. I love going to midnight Mass and feeling like it matters that I’m there. I love holding my husband’s hand in the cold dark air as we walk to the car, with little bodies in our arms, and thinking of the memories we’re making. I love seeing the living room lit up by only the colored lights on the Christmas tree, and I love the flair we’ll have when I give in and let decorating take place, because we will have a helper who has a style all her own.
My Bah-Humbug problem stems from a priority problem. I forget what the real reason for this season is. We’re preparing: our hearts, our lives, our homes. There’s a baby coming, and there’s a lot to be done. Maybe we need to cut out some of the noise, slow down some of the bustling, remember how it must have been long ago as Mary and Joseph started a long, cold journey.
This year, instead of wondering where my Bah-Humbug comes from and accepting it as some sort of fate for the season, I’m going to take my own advice. I’m going to keep my eyes turned toward the star in the sky and think about how much rejoicing there is going to be. I’m going to sit in the silence with my cup of tea, and I’m going to hold out my hand for Jesus to take it. Maybe we can walk together through this Advent, hand in hand, toward the endless Christmas Miracle.