Growing up, Christmas felt more like a marathon than a sprint. It was my favorite time of the year, and nothing could stop me. And if you tried to convince me that it was something that lasted only a mere day, I would tell you that you were wrong.
Beginning on the day after Thanksgiving, my family had many traditions we loved and lived to uphold. After a delicious feast of turkey, green beans, and all the likings with my grandparents, mom and dad, and extended family members, I couldn’t wait to look at Black Friday ads with my Dad. While times have now changed, it was a special memory I held dear.
After diligently sorting through hundreds of pages, Dad and I would come up with the perfect list, full of one hundred and one items I’m confident we did not need. Nevertheless, I’d go to bed around 10:00 p.m., and wake up with eyes glistening at 3:30 in the morning. Shuffling my way to the silver truck, I couldn’t wait to stand outside in the freezing cold. And I’m serious. I had such joy spending the wee hours of early mornings and extended afternoons shopping with my Dad. This tradition lasted until my Dad got sick, and it’s one I still hold near and dear to my heart.
Once Dad and I had a billion items purchased, we’d end our day at I-Hop, and begin our thirty days of Christmas tradition. From that day forward, we kicked into Christmas Celebration 4.0. Aka, anything and everything Christmas for the next month and a half.
As Black Friday came and passed, my family then looked forward to quite a few holiday traditions. Two days after the shopping frenzy, we’d make our way to a local tree farm to find the perfect pine. I still remember the laughter and smiles I shared with my parents, posing with a chainsaw, and flexing my muscles after carrying the entire fir back to the truck on my own. We’d stop at Walmart on the way home, picking up cranberries and popcorn, which made for the perfect snack! I mean decoration for the tree.
Stringing popcorn with a needle and thread, we sat by our fake fireplace. But the warmth I felt that day was not from the fire, but from the memories within my soul. I loved everything about Christmas and everything about those traditions.
Watching holiday movies, even though I always knew the endings.
Exchanging special holiday pajamas and treats and drinks, even though my parents never could find me a vegan white hot chocolate mix.
Racing around the inside of the house to decorate like Buddy the Elf.
Hanging off the side of the house and watching my Dad risk his life to string lights on the peak.
Eating holiday lunches and dinners with extended family on both mom and dad’s sides.
Baking cookies at nearly midnight the night before Christmas.
Singing Happy Birthday, Jesus, and reading the Gospel story.
Opening the best scavenger hunt one could ever imagine. Handcrafted by a man who would soon lose his mental sanity.
Sending too many Christmas cards, but finding joy in the cramp in my hands and the headache in dozens of researched addresses.
When It Doesn’t Feel the Same
But this year, Christmas didn’t feel like Christmas. And not just the singular day, but the entire season.
Because this Christmas was my last Christmas at home. And so, as Thanksgiving came and passed, I couldn’t shake out of it.
I felt depressed.
I longed for the memories with my Dad before he got sick and began to deteriorate.
I longed to hear a conversation between my parents other than fighting over finances, gifts we couldn’t afford, and house payments we couldn’t make.
My heart panged when my loving fiancé took me to get our Christmas tree, but he was hurt I didn’t want to watch the OSU Michigan VS Ohio State football game that day instead.
How could I explain everything I was feeling inside?
Longer Than A Feeling
No one ever told me blending families and traditions was so hard.
No one ever told me growing up and losing traditions would cause so many tears.
As the days turned into weeks, this feeling didn’t seem to cease.
The holly jolly tunes on the radio only made me long for yesterday.
I had to force myself to decorate the house.
Like every piece I unpacked was a childhood memory waiting to provoke me to tears.
Buying presents online and as an adult doesn’t have the same ring as racing through the stores with my dad or shopping diligently with my mom. And when your mind is burdened by anxiety, depression, health concerns, planning a honeymoon and wedding, and trying to teach when you really want to write, it can be hard to focus on anything else.
Longer Than a Season
Yesterday was Christmas, and I’ll be honest Christmas was hard. My writing coach once told me, “The holidays are not always a happy time for everyone, and that is okay.” I don’t think it hit me until this year I had to face it.
A canceled family Christmas party because of a level three.
A canceled traditional gathering at my grandma’s because both contracted pneumonia.
A canceled scavenger hunt because dad’s mind is too far gone.
A canceled Christmas Eve service because the roads are ice.
An inability to get to Church on Christmas because your driving anxiety paralyzes you from trying to drive on ice in a level two.
As I cried, I flipped open the worn pages of my Bible. I found myself in Matthew chapters 1-2. And though I did not feel like reading and praising God this Christmas, that is precisely what I did.
He is Still the Christ of Christmas
Because Christ is still King of Christmas regardless of how Christmas Christmas feels.
Jesus is still Lord of all, even when I can’t feel a thing.
And God holds every single one of my memories and tears, traditions and longings, holding me dearly in the palm of His hands.
The genealogy of Jesus shows all of us that faith is beyond what we feel or see. And for Jesus’ entrance into the world, Mary and Joseph had to trust God in that unknown. In feelings that I’m sure felt far from “Christmas”.
Nothing would be easy about telling your fiancé you’re pregnant and the father isn’t him.
Nothing would be simple about convincing your fiancé that the baby within you is not only from the Holy Spirit but going to be the Savior of the World.
Nothing would be pleasant about sleeping in a stinky stable.
Nothing would be comfortable about giving birth where cows and sheep live.
Nothing would feel normal about taking a leap of faith and believing beyond what their eyes could see or perceive.
Nothing more than the humble birth of Jesus shows me that it’s okay if Christmas doesn’t feel or look like we thought Christmas would. Because just as the entrance of Christ didn’t feel or look like the people expected, Christmas will always remain Christmas, as long as we remain in Christ.
This year was not the Christmas I expected or anticipated. But next Christmas, and throughout the year, I know there is hope. Christmas is not a day or even a season, but a belief and celebration of Christ every single day of the year. And even when it least feels like Christmas, I can rejoice that our God, Immanuel is with us, bringing peace, everlasting wisdom, and counseling comfort, even to the end.
When Christmas is hard, let us know it’s okay. We are not perfect human beings exempt from trouble, emotions, and tears. But let us focus on the Christ of Christmas who is far more faithful and promising than any traditions and memories we’ve ever shared.
Yes, those traditions and memories are valuable. They create the atmosphere of the spirit of Christmas that our commercialized industry has fed us. But more than that, just spending Christmas with those we love, even if they are sick, hurting, and not the same as they once were, is a blessing from the Christ of Christmas Himself.
If Christmas is hard for you this year, be encouraged that you are not alone. It was hard for me too. But processing my emotions and memories with the Lord and those I trusted, made it easier to bear. And despite what we feel, if we have salvation, rest assured that the Christ of Christmas is with us every day, regardless of when or if we feel it or not.
Even if the presents remain unpurchased and unwrapped.
Even if the traditions have changed.
Even if you’re starting your traditions over.
Even if loved ones have passed.
Even if it’s your last Christmas at home.
Even if it doesn’t feel like Christmas.
Even if you cry and hang your head.
Christ is still the Christ of Christmas.
He’s still King of the Throne.
Even when Christmas is hard.
Even and especially when it doesn’t feel like Christmas.