Everyone loves Christmas. Or do they?
Typically, Christmas holds memories from the past that remind us of something wonderful. We come to expect that Christmas should be happy and magical because it was happy and magical in our memories. Perhaps we remember the presence of loved ones now gone. Or the beauty of lovely lights softened by a snowfall. Maybe it is just that family spent time together. People came home. There was laughter, surprise, and feasting.
For others, Christmas is not as enchanting. They remember drunk parents, family fights, heavy loneliness, or poverty during a time when absolutely everyone else seemed to be experiencing abundance.
Rightly or wrongly, we do possess expectations of Christmas. There is an unspoken belief, perhaps deeply hidden, that Christmas owes us something. When it fails to produce, we feel hurt by Christmas, as if somehow Christmas has done us wrong. This may contribute to a general bitterness and cynicism around the whole season. There are also those among us who gaze at the excess with apprehension. Wherever you have excess, there is bound to be disappointment or even confusion. Right? Are things so bad in our everyday life that we have to throw this much at NOT being in our everyday life? That can't be good.
Can we isolate the joy of Christmas into two simple elements? Wonder and awe?
The experience of wonder and awe presupposes a few pieces. If Christmas is characterised in our memories as a time when we lose our everyday armour and open up to mysticism, it is no surprise that we both crave and fear it. We crave the magical nature of our memories and we fear not experiencing them again.
Let’s get to the point. Wonder and awe can happen when we are open to admitting there is something bigger than us that loves us. Boom. This invisible force wraps gently around some normal-ish experience and infuses it with grace, sparkles, and happiness. Let’s pin that down. You cannot buy wonder and awe. It’s not available on Amazon, as annoyingly and suspiciously convenient as Amazon has made itself. (Prime anyone?) You cannot manufacture wonder and awe, bake it, or charge it on your trembling credit card.
The big secret about wonder and awe is that it has to be a gift. It has to be given. The bigger secret about wonder and awe is that you only get it by giving it away, by stretching to show love to others. When you stretch you become open.
How can we quantify the randomness of this potential experience? We take a breath and dive again. What is the best gift of Christmas? This is different for every family and every individual. It could be the gift of not being alone. But maybe being alone IS a gift for you. It could be the gift of affording a new washer, oven, or extractor fan. It could be that thing that went well in November, or a hard thing you finished, that you feel continual gratitude about. It could be anything.
One year, amidst abundance, an elegantly wrapped gift sat under the family tree. At the end of the morning melee, the gift finally got noticed. It was for the father, who had recently been diagnosed with celiac disease which meant no more of foods he had eaten since childhood. This was a “today’s bread today” man. It was never going to be pretty. He was handed the gift and noted its elaborate presentation and most careful decoration. He opened with an audience of silent watchers. This dad is typically not the man anyone wants in a Secret Santa. He does not seem to “want” anything, which could be challenging for his family. What could it be in the box? The Dad’s matter of fact efforts exposed a plastic Tupperware-like tub, bought at the local shop, about the size of a toaster. “Oh,” he said, a little surprised. Tupperware is generally not a Dad gift. In it he found individually wrapped, home-made, gluten free lemon squares, his favourite dessert; something he had not had since the day before wheat was cruelly ripped from his life.
His youngest daughter watched him closely and said, “I don’t know if they’re any good.”
Everyone felt the grace, the wonder, the love. The father was visibly moved. Because of dessert? No. Because his youngest daughter, aware of his suffering, sought to alleviate it, even in the smallest way. He was visibly moved because he had been so carefully and compassionately seen in his disappointment. He had been contemplated.
The grace of Christmas, like a children’s bubble full of love, filled the room. Reverence and connection landed quietly as he stumbled over words of thanks. This was a man’s man, a farmer, hearty and hale. He was not used to being met in his emotional life by his smallest daughter. Arguably, only she could have produced this amount of sweetness for him. This is a good example of the secret of Christmas.
Christmas wonder and awe cannot be achieved unless it is given. When you serve Christmas, like an elf, or a soldier, you benefit, too. Parents work hard to offer their children a lovely experience. They should, within balanced reason.
The foundation of Christmas is a gift; a small baby, protected by a man and a woman living in poverty. In that baby’s presence rested the hopes of God, who wanted people to see that religion badly expressed and lived did damage and failed to represent him. In that baby existed all the love and hope God could pour into the world. Well over 2000 years later we celebrate God’s love at Christmas, by loving each other, a little more, with a bit more hope, and at least a stab at sweet contemplation.
Everyone, arguably, should spend at least one Christmas alone, abandoned, or neglected. Why? Because hope is bigger than anything we can wrap or decorate. Hope is for every person, in every circumstance. Hope seeks out the lonely and finds the abandoned. It floats through time targeting sadness and despair. Hope often uses us to do so, we note with humility. Hope needs us all and invites us, like elves and soldiers, to serve Christmas so that the subtle “pop” of love can happen, both for us and for anyone around us. There can be no excess in sweet love, eye contact, or smiles. When we have nothing else to give, eye contact and a smile finds its value and gains power. Yes, kind eye contact and a small, genuine smile can cause the “pop” of Christmas for another, be they stranger, friend, or family.
It’s the mystery of Christmas that we never know where or when this lovely, mystical “pop” of wonder and awe will land. It happens in the most extraordinary ways. What we do know is that we can serve it through kindness.
Merry Christmas, soldiers and elves. Let’s keep our hearts open.