Friday, December 21, 2007

I Don't Want to Sound Like Scrooge, But . . .

When a family from church learned that my husband and I would be spending this Christmas alone, without other family members, they felt sorry for us and kindly invited us to their house for the day. They have five kids, and it's a lively scene. We graciously turned down the invitation. I didn't go into detail about why I like to spend Christmas alone, but let me explain here:

Underlying the whole issue is the fact that some people like a big party and some people don't. That's just the way they are, and I belong to the latter group. Nothing wrong with that. The more immediate reason that I like a quite, peaceful Christmas is that for forty years, I hosted a big family Christmas almost every year, and I've OD'd on big Christmases!

Both my mother and my mother-in-law were the oldest of a family of five and seven kids, respectively, and they grew up in hard times when each child got one present, something practical like new mittens or a book. Even an orange in the stocking was a treat. After they grew up and had the means, producing a big Christmas for us, their kids, was something that was really important to them. My mother-in-law, in particular, like to play the role of the fairy-godmother, and she "treated" (her word) not only her children, and later, her grandchildren, but also nieces and nephews with substantial gifts. She liked to shop. She liked to be the one who gave the "special" gift, (one among several.) The Christmas after her husband died, she told us and my sister-in-law that Dad had wanted to get each of us a television set for Christmas and she was going to carry out his wish. Neither of us wanted a television set --- our kids had been getting along fine without one. We weren't even very sure that television sets had really been Dad's idea, but what could we say? So we got television sets for Christmas, like it or not.

Shortly after my husband and I were married, my mother announced that she would never spend Christmas alone. So began the annual rotation: my parents one year, my in-laws the next year. Since my husband and I each have one sister, one of our sisters had parents every-other-year. Many years later, when dating old photos, we'd calculate which Christmas it was by which parents were with us. For my sister and my sister-in-law, this meant a "big" Christmas alternating with a "little" Christmas. (They didn't have inlaws as part of the formula. ) For us, it meant a "big" Christmas every year. A couple of times it worked out that we had both parents at the same time. They went out if their way to be cordial to each other, but had such different expectations and interests, that the resulting stress for me was not worth the peace of a "little" Christmas the following year. And have I mentioned that our parents lived 2000 miles away; so they arrived several days before December 25 and stayed until the New Year?

I could go on about all the things about Christmas I don't like, but don't get me wrong. I like Christmas itself: the anticipation, the lights, the music, the smell of evergreen, the spirit of peace and cooperation that permeates society. I could do without the gross commercialization, the greed, the frantic attempt to do it all and make it perfect. Three years ago, my husband and I spent Christmas in England. We lived in a very small flat, and had an eight inch tall Christmas tree in a pot. We shopped for ready-made food the day before, and gave each other one very small gift that would fit in the suitcase. We attended a local Christmas Eve service for families and learned about the custom of Christingle. On Christmas morning, we walked about an hour into the countryside, past frosted fields. We could see our breath and that of the cows in the nearby fields. Our destination was a very old, tiny stone church without electricity or heat. There we gathered with about 40 or 50 other people, sitting close together in the rough wooden pews so we might stay a little warmer. At the beginning of the service, the bell ringer walked up to the front of the church to pull the ropes while his dog stood by. Although the organist was too cold or couldn't see in the dark or the little pump reed organ was in bad condition, the congregation sang joyfully anyway. We didn't know anyone, but we didn't feel alone.

This Advent season, we've been studying the messianic prophesies of Isaiah. We learned that they (and most Old Testament prophesies) were responses to bad situations: wars, exploitation, injustice, greed, self-centeredness, dishonesty --- people who had collectively fallen away from a relationship with God. The prophets said, "Shape up, or really bad things will happen." And really bad things did happen. But after suffering the consequences of their bad behavior, God offered them a second chance, a redemption. He was right to embody himself in a baby, an innocent who has no agenda, and can confer no power or status. A baby is the symbol hope, and another second chance. What joy!


Post a Comment

<< Home