December 24, 2007

Unwrapping Christmas

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What I'm Learning About ...
"Doing" Christmas
Ronna Snyder

"The Halloween candy isn't even off Wal-Mart's shelves yet, for heaven's sake," I grumbled as I pushed my cart through the tsunami of red-and-green holiday decorations already flooding the store last October.

Those colors had become a negative trigger for me, jumpstarting all my seasonal stress, pressure, and ex-pectations … feelings I'd begun to associate with a holiday that should trigger nothing but positive ones.

Peace became more elusive each holiday season. I'd lug out heavy boxes of ornaments to adorn my tree and home, trying to emulate the "perfect" Christmas look. Or spend hours in crowded malls, shopping for "perfect" gifts—items I knew were likely to be exchanged by their recipients. I'd toil over my family's traditional holiday recipes, convinced I'd be the world's worst mother if I didn't fix them.

There in Wal-Mart I suddenly thought, What must Jesus think of all this blatant commercialism?

I visualized him pushing a clumsy shopping cart, passing the same displays I saw—the tinseled trees, the plastic mangers, all screaming, "Buy me! Buy me!" And, as the final insult, doing so to the tune of "Silent Night" playing over the store's PA system.

There in Wal-Mart I suddenly thought, What must Jesus think of this blatant commercialism?I contemplated the irony of that song. Then I remembered a little-known Scripture: "For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not" (Jeremiah 10:3-4, KJV).

Vain customs? Ouch.

That's it, I thought. I just can't "do" Christmas anymore.

Call it a holiday-mindset makeover, if you will. Hoping to put meaning back into a season that, for me, had lost so much of it, I decided to forgo nearly all our holiday traditions except sharing great food and great times with family. I didn't put up a tree or decorations, didn't buy—or wrap—a single gift. Instead, I choreographed a Christmas my family pronounced "The best ever, Mom!"

So what did we do? We gave each other the best gift of all—time. Stress-free, worry-free time. Not only time to contemplate the significance of Christ's coming to earth to save us, but time to actually "live it." Time to read, pray, think. And time to spend with each other.

As a family, we made a list of fun and inexpensive local activities, and now, because we had the time, we did them. We bowled. We played pool. We went to the ocean. We ate out. We ate in (Costco did the cooking for us). And we finished it all off by savoring New Year's Eve fireworks displays. Together.

By stripping away the Christmas expectations I'd let bind me each year, we experienced every little bit of fun and spiritual significance the holiday provided—without the hassles and the guilt.

Now my favorite Christmas photo is a silhouette of my family watching the sun set over the Pacific Ocean. I'll never forget our churchlike silence as we paused before that fiery spectacle, thanking God for the precious time he'd given us to behold his majesty in the skies. That night at the dining table, we bowed our heads and again humbly thanked him for it.

Yes, I wrestled with the seeming sacrilege of having a nontraditional Christmas. But unwrapping Christmas freed my heart. And in doing so, it freed my family to have a Christmas that was more Christmas-like than any I'd ever imagined: one packed with incredible memories that'll outlast any present we could've given each other.

Now that's something no one will be taking back for an exchange!

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