I heard on NPR today that Charles Dickens was the man who invented Christmas after A Christmas Carol encouraged people to celebrate with family and goodwill and Rizzo the Rat. Apparently the Puritans and Protestant Reformerators had banned Christmas celebrations in both England and the U.S. at various times because it was too commercial. (and hedonistic and pagan and such, but still! How materialistic can you be without indoor plumbing?)
I love Christmas. The lights, the smells, the excitement in my children’s faces. Susan(4) is hoping for a lot of candy in her stocking (Halloween made a big impression this year). Sally(7) has asked for a stuffed animal now that Flower, her favorite purple bunny, has been loved into an early Velveteen grave. Spot(2) hasn’t asked for anything yet, but she has learned to shout a defensive “mine!” whenever Susan eyes her favorite pony.
When we lived in Cairo, our Christmases were sweet and simple. There were no extended family dinners or office parties or lights on the house or presents to ship. Our trees were bushy juniper shrubs. Our nativity sets were made of clay or wood by native Coptic Christians. Celebrating Christmas seemed like a deliberate choice. A Christian commemoration in a Muslim country that signified our belief, our hope in Christ.
The second year we were in Egypt I miscarried on December 23rd. It was an even quieter Christmas.
Every year since then, I’ve wished that our Christmas could be simpler, quieter. Of course, when we were in Cairo I wished for a large Noble Fir, and a ham for Christmas dinner, and I longed to see my own parents and eat rot kohl with my sisters and brothers. We only had one child in Cairo, so of course it was quieter, and simpler.
Now we have three kids, and I’m glad for the family parties and the friendly neighbors who bring treats. And the lights that deck the houses we drive by and the carols on the radio and the big tree that stands in the corner.
I even like the Christmas cards that I swore this year I wouldn’t do.
I think the problem is that I do honestly want a smaller Christmas, a Christmas on the inside, so I say, This year I won’t buy ANY presents or do any sort of craft or send any kind of card. I won’t go to any parties or decorate the house or bake the Allen’s special almond pastry. And then I get a little bit stressed as I add all these things back in, one by one, a month too late, where a little bit stressed means I yell and say the f-word during our family activity EVEN THOUGH I’ve realized I LIKE cards, and crafts (easy ones), and little teacher presents that the kids can wrap, and decorations, and I ESPECIALLY LIKE the special almond pastry, even if it does take two pounds of butter and four hours to make.
There must be a way to reconcile the simple Christ-full Christmas on the inside with all the little family traditions that do make the season sweeter. And I think a big part of that will be making plans starting in October April?
Tonight we delivered Christmas Clementines to our neighbors. I’d found cute Chinese-takeout-style treat cartons at Costco and Dick looked online for a suitably-cheesy tagline (Orange you glad it’s Christmas?). Susan wore her Rambo headband and Spot refused to wear her coat. Sally herded her sisters from van to doorstep. Dick and I giggled like teenagers as the girls clomped along in their snowboots.
I think I better figure out the Christmas of details and presents and church parties and ornaments. The Christmas of stockings and family dinners and advent calendars and tinsel — without all the yelling.
Unless we move to India.
What works for you for simplifying the holidays while keeping all your favorite traditions?