Giving New Life to Christmas

– Rebecca Preston, MA, Spiritual Director

Christmas – it used to be my favorite season.

Having worked in retail many years throughout my life, I developed a jaundiced eye regarding Christmas. The mystery of Christmas was reduced by the everyday handling of all things red and green.  The trinkets identifying the miracle of the season came in cheap plastic from China.  The message of love intentioned for the season was clouded by the rudeness of the shoppers, whose lists of things to accomplish became the emphasis rather than the true reason for the season.

For a long time, Christmas was not all it could be for me and for those around me.

I found that I needed to re-look at Christmas.  I hope that my journey to Christmas might be of help to you, if you, too, are feeling the need to re-look at your celebration of Christmas.

After experiencing the worst that Christmas can offer, I asked myself some questions:

  • What would Christmas look like if Jesus was living my life right now?
  • How do I regain the message of the miracle of Christmas?
  • How can I recapture the message of love and giving without becoming a mind-numbed zombie?
  • How can I replace the madness for the simplicity of gathering with family and friends?

I believed I needed to start with Advent.  Advent is a bit like Lent, in that it is a period of time associated with anticipation.  In the Celtic traditions, Advent actually starts earlier than we start in the United States.  It is a 40-day period, again, much like Lent.  The emphasis is on waiting.  There is an expectation of arrival. During this time, we are preparing for the birth of Christ, similar to how the Jewish people of the Old Testament waited for the coming of the Messiah.  Advent reminds us that we, too, are waiting, but not only for the birth of Jesus.  In our time period, we are looking forward to Jesus’ return – His second coming.

More questions popped up:  What is there about Advent that I would like to incorporate in my life?  How could I nurture the feelings of anticipation or expectation that go along with this season?  Possibilities:

  • An Advent devotional
  • Telling the stories of the Bible with the help of Jesse Tree with my family
  • An Advent wreath
  • An Advent calendar
  • Memorizing some of the verses of the Bible which tell of Jesus coming

These were all options that ran through my mind.  What I chose in the end was making the time of Advent special.  My husband and I decided to incorporate some of the things we have always talked about, but never did.  So one year we went to a local college concert of Handel’s Messiah.  It was truly wonderful.  It brought back memories of my mother playing her Messiah records right after Thanksgiving.  For me, it was not only a time of fond reminiscence, but it helped to place the season in terms of Christ’s mission on the earth.

Another time, we visited a local garden where they have an amazing Christmas display.  It was full of lights, fountains, and music.  With every turn, we caught our breath at the beauty before us.  The tour brought back wonder and surprise as we slowly made our way through the paths of the gardens.  It reminded me of the mystery of God, full of beauty and awe.

This year I will be using an Advent devotional from one of my favorite websites with the hope that the devotionals will also bring to heart some of those feelings of anticipation and expectation I so desire at Christmas.

My next decisions were on Christmas preparations from gift buying to decorating to the baking.

Simplicity seemed to be the answer to the questions I was asking.

Simpler baking.

Reduced decorations.

I looked at gift giving in a new way.

Gift giving has always been a pleasure for me, but I realized as my kids left and started their own families that I was no longer the CPG (chief present giver).  My children and grandchildren’s gifts became more appropriate for this stage of our lives.  I’ve also re-found that one of my greatest joys comes from giving to my loved ones items I have handcrafted.  I’m quite skilled at sewing, knitting, and all sorts of crafting.  In the past, I often gave presents I made, but I fell out of step with that some time ago.  Now there is a renewal of great satisfaction in making things for people I care for.  And I’ve found that there is a bit of anticipation in seeing the reaction to the gifts I made for them…good or bad…it makes a memory.

Rather than let the season drag me along in the raging river of what I thought was expected of me, I now approach the season with more thought and purpose.  The funny thing is, I’m happier.  My husband is happier.  And no one seems to care that I make less cookies, or I don’t put lights and boughs on my stairway or that the gifts are not extravagant.

Christmas is a special time of year.  It doesn’t have to be a time of craziness driven by consumerist expectations, rather it can be just another path on our journey of Spiritual formation.  We can be as intentional about this season as we are about anything in our Spiritual life.  And along the way, we can discover all the joy, hope, and love of the Christmas season with our focus on developing our relationship with God and His son.

After all, isn’t that the reason for the season?

What do you long for as you approach Christmas?  What could you do to make your Christmas celebration more enjoyable, and at the same time, worshipful?

Merry Christmas!