This year I’m preparing myself for Christmas by doing something I’ve never done before. It’s so radical for me that it’s taking everything within me to accomplish it. I’m pushing myself every step of the way. What am I doing? Nothing.
Through the years, I’ve been known to go a bit overboard at Christmastime, particularly with my decorating. When my kids were still living with me, every year I challenged myself to have a tree in our home more magnificent than the one the year before. When the Christmas tree farm opened at the crack of dawn on the day after Thanksgiving, I always had to be the first person through the gate. My snow-boots stomped through the rows of trees until I found the perfect blue spruce and tagged it. It had to be just big enough so that the tip would touch the peak of our 14 foot cathedral ceiling. When the time came to pick the tree up, I’d have to send someone with a truck. As we forced it through the front door, it always reminded me of the classic scene where Piglet is trying to shove a much-too-large Winnie the Pooh through a much-too-small window. One of my kids would invariably say, “It’s not gonna fit”, and I would insist that it had to. After it was up and decorated, and the other members of my family were barely speaking to me, it was always worth the effort when the kids’ friends would come into the house and gasp as they looked upon the perfect Christmas tree and asked, “Is that thing real?”
My Christmas decorations feature a Santa Claus collection that has grown over the years. It includes well over 50 versions of the jolly old elf. From an inch to three feet tall, he is black/white/brown. He’s playing golf, riding a motorcycle, swinging a lasso, blowing into the flute, making bubbles, painting toys… you name it.
Then there are the sentimental items that I can’t bear to part with: the ornaments made by my kids when they were in school, the stockings crocheted by my mom with Gretchen and Ben sewn into them, the handmade nativity scene given to me by a dear saint in my first parish.
It all means so much to me, from the greenery and candles on the mantel to the festive welcome mat at the wreath-decked door. And yet, this year I’ve decided that I’m not going to do any of it. And I’m discovering that it’s one of the hardest things I’ve never done.
I wish I could say that my motivation has been deeply spiritual, but that’s really not the case. It’s a practical matter. Over the past month I have been totally consumed with moving my nest from one location in Charlotte to another. I sorted and threw things away, and hauled carloads to Goodwill. I scrounged in dumpsters and collected cardboard boxes, and I packed. I cleaned furiously at my old home, and then I cleaned even more furiously at my new home. I sliced open boxes and unpacked and arranged stuff and then rearranged it and worked myself ragged finding a place for everything. Now, the last thing I want to do is haul out all the Christmas decorations and disrupt my home. The dust hasn’t settled from the move yet. I just don’t have the energy for it. So I made the decision that the practical thing is to forego Christmas decorations this year.
Every day I’m wondering if I’m going to break down and decorate. Maybe just a little. But I know what will happen if I start; I won’t be able to stop. As Christmas gets closer, I don’t know if I’ll be able to not do it. But what started out as a practical decision has become something more than that for me. As I find myself resisting the whole idea of not decorating, I’ve questioned why this is so darn important to me. Why is my celebration of Christmas so tied up in the activity of decorating and getting everything just right -- creating a setting for the perfect Christmas? My preoccupation with the window dressing of the season has shown me that this actually is a spiritual issue for me after all. And so now I’m more determined than ever to do nothing in preparation for Christmas. Nothing on the outside, that is. Instead, I’m focusing my energy on the inside. As long as I’m not decorating, I’ve decided to refrain from other activities as well, such as baking, and shopping.
What would it be like if you took all the time that you spend scurrying about doing all the stuff you just have to do before Christmas gets here and did none of it, but instead spent that time praying, reading scripture, serving those in need? I’ve always wondered that for myself, and this year I intend to find out.
Will Christmas still happen for me? I know that I definitely won’t be finding it under a tree or in dozens of Santa faces smiling at me on Christmas morning. But I have no doubt it will happen. I’ll find it the same place I always do. In my heart.