What Do You Think of When You Hear the Word Christmas?

Do your thoughts change depending on what time of year you hear that word?

In January, do your thoughts go to the excess you spent and the bills that are coming due?

In April, do you have fond reminiscent thoughts of time spent with family or church services or relaxing over the last cup of coffee after a satisfying meal?

In June, do you have fantastical thoughts of what the next Christmas will be like or do you find yourself thinking about what you’ve already accomplished toward the next Christmas or that you are “already hopelessly behind?”

In October, do you think about the family you will see and the long chats you will have or the delighted faces of your children? Or do you have thoughts of how much you have to do in the intervening couple of months?

How about what you think of when you hear the word “Christmas” on December 1st? December 23rd?

The other night I was reading one of the books from our Christmas collection. Every year I wrap the 30+ books we have collected about Christmas, holidays and winter, with one book, “The Night Before Christmas” wrapped in special, distinquishing paper, to signify that is the book to be read on December 24th.

This particular night one of my boys had picked and unwrapped “The Wild Reindeer” by Jan Brett, a story about a child in the arctic who was donned with the task of training and staging the reindeer Santa would use on his journey around the world.

One of the things I love about Jan Brett books is the artful illustrations. Each side of the page depicts the story line with a hint about what has come before and what is yet to come. Each page is a work of art in its own right. In this book, the side illustrations depict all the work that must be done before Christmas, with a calendar page indicating the date in December, each page counting down until that final day the reindeer are to make their voyage, and all the preparatory tasks are complete for yet another successful holiday. The child, Teeka, learns that the tasks are not as important as the relationships she has with the reindeer who are in her command.

As I read that story to my children, my mind drifted to thoughts of my day earlier at the office. My coworkers and I were discussing our weekend, all we had accomplished, all we had not, and the frustrations that went with both. As it was mid-December, all those tasks had something to do with Christmas. We all lamented in rather vocal agreement about the stress of the weekend…quite contrary to our conversations about weekends past throughout the rest of the year.

I remembered my weekend days just the day and two before. I had spent the better part of two days wrapping gifts, packaging gifts to be mailed to friends and family out of state, scouering the internet looking for deals on the remaining items still on my list to buy and give, hurrying to ready the family for The Nutcracker ballet we had tickets to see, all the while entertaining thoughts on my mental “to do” list of all I still had left to do. Sunday evening I was just plain giddy…laughing at the slightest things to the point that one son pointed out, “Mom, I’m just not that funny. You must be exhausted!” Little did he know how true a statement that was…by the end of the evening I was laughing so hard when the laughter suddenly turned to tears without an obvious trigger. I was exhausted, with so much still left to do.

Monday morning I found I hadn’t been alone in my cry. Each of my coworkers also lamented their overly full weekends with some degree of accomplishment, yet a greater degree of regret over all that was still left to be done. I heard comments about the shopping, the wrapping, more shopping, the baking, the productions to be seen, more shopping, the cleaning to be done, the decorating, more shopping (or at this point in the month shopping was replaced by hunting…no more leisurely looking and deciding. It was now a hunt for the kill and conquer of those remaining gifts to be found), the wrapping, the cards to be addressed, and the company to be entertained.

If I hadn’t been drained of all energy already from my own crowded weekend, just being a part of that discussion would have exhausted me. I took comfort in knowing that even though I was unaware at the time, I was not alone in my struggle to do more than I could possibly get done and the lingering list that intruded on my thoughts. Yet after reading the holiday reindeer book to my children, the comfort I had felt earlier in the day was replaced by feeling ill at ease.

I revisited the memory of the Christmas production I had seen just days before at our church, “Truthical the Musical.” It was a dramatic representation of our lives and all that they encompass throughout our journey to discover truth. Set to Broadway music from musicals of years past, it told the story of a girl, Natalie, who was tired of “playing the role” others had given her to play. She was searching for truth and integrity. She reviewed her life and at first thought that popularity would bring satisfaction, and that in popularity she would be appreciated and respected. Yet she found that dream had brought emptiness and she still felt lonely.

It was only when she discovered that God, the ultimate producer, had a starring role for her in the script of her life, written before she was born. God had an open casting call, and only those who chose to be part of His production would find their part. Natalie questioned “what difference could one decision really make?”

Yet she found out through her searching that one decision made all the difference between Truth and a lie, as she came to learn that God had given His only son to be born on Christmas to offer us everlasting truth and purpose. While God offered the decision to be made, not everyone chose to accept and receive his gift. As all endearing stories do, Natalie made the decision that would provide the “happily ever after” in her script and for her eternal life.

As my children closed their eyes and gave themselves to the sleep that was calling, I compared and contrasted the purpose of the very first Christmas with the very meager setting and minimal provisions, only those that really mattered, with the Christmas season as I was currently experiencing it.

Without the first Christmas when Jesus was born, life would have no meaning, no hopeful opportunities, no purpose, and no everlasting promise. The gifts, the wrapping, the decorating, the cleaning, and all those other activities that fill every waking moment in preparation for a date on the calendar would be devoid of purpose.

I had to humbly admit that I had fallen prey to the Hollywood version of the Christmas play, forgetting as Teeka had in the reindeer story that it is relationship that is important. In my crushed spirit, feeling I had failed to accomplish, I had failed to remember the reason we celebrate Christmas, and celebrating was not what I was doing. I was shamefully looking forward to “Christmas being over.” How that must make God weep, for His gift to be disregarded and forgotten.

As I looked at the calendar and “counted the days,” I was given a new perspective. And as I thought of the word “Christmas,” I found myself filled with gratitude.

How are you feeling about Christmas this year? Where is your perspective based?