I don’t remember when it started for me, but it came on gradually. One year, I felt a little sad after opening presents instead of ridiculously excited. Another year, I noticed how much work getting ready for Christmas took for my parents and realized that it wasn’t just a magical time of bliss, but kind of stressful. And then once I was no longer living at home, the “Christmas feels weird now” came on fast and strong.
Being a college kid at home for Christmas was weird because I felt a distance between me and my immediate family. I didn’t know what was going on in everyone’s daily lives as well anymore, so I felt like a strange aunt trying to fit in rather than the nice big sister who was always around. And then after college, it got more complicated. I had to navigate choosing where to go for Christmas with my fiance, and then, husband. I just wanted to be with my family, because even though I felt different, it was still the same Christmas it had always been with our pastries after midnight Mass tradition, German pancakes for breakfast, the same Christmas playlist I was used to, surrounded by the people I loved most in the world.
But of course, my fiance wanted to spend Christmas with his family. And his family’s holiday was changing from what he was used to as everyone in the family was an adult and there were no kids to make Christmas special for.
So suddenly, it wasn’t a given that I would spend Christmas with my family every year and I had to really think about what Christmas means. Of course, I had heard people talk about “Jesus is the reason for the season”and how “gifts are not the meaning of Christmas, Jesus is” all of my life, and I had felt pretty sure I was mature enough to realize the real point of Christmas.
But I hadn’t realized just how much stock I had put in the way Christmas should be celebrated, in my own family’s traditions, decorations, food, and even jokes. Realizing that the rest of the Christmases in my life might not look anything like that was a monumental shift for me.
And I won’t lie, it was a painful one. Letting go of my expectations and what I want Christmas to be has not been easy. But I’ve learned two things as I’ve processed this in my own life…
First, I’ve tried to reorient my focus to people. What we do at Christmas might change, but while the people I love are still alive, they are the ones I want to focus on. If I’m with my own family or my in-laws or just spending Christmas with my husband and son, the people I’m with deserve my full attention. If that means helping them buy gifts, or cooking, or not decorating as many cookies because we’re having a good conversation, then that takes precedent.
Second, I still have to remind myself of the whole reason we’re spending time together, cooking special food, and decorating — God coming to earth and bringing salvation to us all. When something feels off or I am stressed out and unhappy about Christmas preparations or what is happening the day of Christmas, praying a quick, “I love you Jesus, but your birthday is really stressing my out right now. Please help,” never hurts. While it is mostly a complaint prayer, at least I’m remembering who is behind all of this. And at the end of the day, whether Christmas is a magical time with the perfect food, lights, and presents or whether there’s a huge family fight before everyone eats Christmas dinner in sulky silence, Jesus still comes to bring us grace and get us to Heaven. And no amount of messy, strange, or unusual Christmases changes that.
Preparing for the light of Christmas in the darkness of Advent