It’s that special, special time of the year, when the tree lights glisten, and the radio spews carols, and butter-laden baking beckons, and I remember how much more magical the holidays were when I wasn’t responsible for planning them. Because let’s be honest: the Christmas season is a real mixed bag once you become a parent.
I always loved the month of December as a kid. And really, what wasn’t to love? My mother relaxed her favourite “lentils are healthier for you than sugar” rule, we got to visit our relatives in an exotic northern metropolis (ie: Edmonton), and we got presents. It was a lot of fun. So now, every year when December rolls around, I expect to feel the same air of exuberant excitement that I did when I was a kid. And every year, I am vaguely surprised when that excitement is mixed with a heaping helping of complicated emotions and stress. It’s like I’m expecting this:
But what I get is this:
I try to simplify the holidays as much as I can, but they still often feel like a mad dash to the finish line. Gifts and concerts and cards and parties and sugar-triggered breakdowns (my children’s, because everyone seems to want to hand them bags of candy this time of year, and mine, because my self-control around sugar is about the same as my five-year-old’s), and our kids aren’t even in grade school yet. We don’t emphasize Santa or that creepy Dude on the Shelf thing, but the season still becomes more about gifts and consumption and busyness than I would like.
The stress of the season is unfortunate, because so much of it is good. Connecting with friends, giving gifts, decorating the house and eating sugar. It just sometimes feels like too much good all at once. And all that goodness distracts me from what this season is really about. We’ve been celebrating Advent with the girls, and we light candles and read verses from the bible each evening.
The verse that always stands out to me is from Isaiah: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.” It reminds me that the lead-up to the birth of Christ wasn’t about feeling the Christmas spirit, or crappy Christmas carols, or parties and presents. It was a time of darkness, waiting for the sun to rise at last. And maybe that’s what bothers me most about this season: the bustle and stress and fun of the season can so easily crowd out what matters most.
I don’t have some brilliant solution. I don’t want to be a holiday killjoy, and cancel the fun associated with this season, and I still intend to eat my weight’s worth in butter-saturated baking. But at the same time, I want to remind myself and my girls that the season is about much more than that. At the end of the day, God coming to earth in human form beats even Santa for magic.