One week until Christmas Day.
I thought I was moving into the season. Catching the spirit. Snow came—unexpectedly. The Christmas program at church was incredible. The last day of school came, and there was a latent sense of excitement. Students passed out packages to the teachers, said Merry Christmas and have a good break. Snow came—again. And ice.
And still many around me are saying this doesn’t feel like Christmas. What does Christmas feel like? When you wrap your arms around this holiday what weight does it have in your embrace? Or do you even embrace it?
A co-worker of mine played the annual Santa Claus not long ago. Obviously he enjoyed himself very much; you could see the enthusiasm as he donned his red velvet coat and knee-high boots. His bells jingled merrily as he walked to his place and greeted a whole lot of children who came just to see him. Later, I asked him what he enjoyed the most about this role. He explained, “I love seeing the wonder in the children’s eyes. Knowing I helped that happen is just great. Absolutely great!”
Seeing the wonder. Perhaps that is what is missing this Christmas. This year I find myself far more cynical than in previous ones. I avoid the retail marketplace—going only when I must. It’s more than that though…
I have lost my wonder. I seemed to have misplaced my awe. Perhaps this is because my children are grown now. No Christmas lists. No Christmas wishes (other than ones I can’t provide). Gone is the starry-eyed gaze when the Christmas tree is turned on and the lights dimmed. Gone is the barely-contained excitement of hiding gifts and trying not to peek. Gone are the whispers and the anticipation of Christmas morning. Next Christmas morning we will wake up in different places and have different agendas.
So, what does Christmas feel like?
Another one of the best Christmas memories I have happened when I was about seventeen. Christmas was very close and my step-father had not shopped yet. He and I talked about what he wanted to get his children for Christmas. They were all older than me. I offered to shop for him. I remember the amount of money he gave me, and I also remember the fun I had shopping. Honestly, I can’t remember everything I found for them that year, except for my oldest step-brother. He loved to camp, so I spent a great deal of time looking at portable stoves, sleeping bags, lanterns and cooking gear. I was elated.
I brought all these gifts (plus the ones for my step-sisters) and showed them to my step-father. He seemed so pleased. I handed him an envelope with the remainder of the money he had given me to purchase these gifts.
He opened the envelope and then looked at me quite puzzled. “What’s this?”
“Your change and your receipts.”
He started to chuckle. I love to see my step-father smile and laugh. His whole face lights and his blue eyes sparkle.
“Honey, that money was for you for Christmas. That was your Christmas money.”
I stood looking at him, not quite comprehending what he was telling me. He handed the envelope back to me.
He hadn’t known what to get me, so he had given me money so I could get what I wanted. I hadn’t understood. I know I must have looked just ridiculous to him—standing there with my mouth agape.
I remember trying to think about where I had misunderstood my step-father? What phrase or set of instructions had I not heard? What course of conversation had led me to believe he was sending me out as his Christmas elf?
I still don’t know.
I do know the feeling I had in that moment standing in the back room of the family restaurant is what I want Christmas to feel like.
That was probably one of the best Christmas presents I ever received. No, not the envelope. I don’t remember what I bought myself with that left-over money. Don’t remember at all. I do know that years later my step-brother was still using the camping stove.