The last Christmas before we moved overseas was magical, perfect, “Hallmarkish”.
Every family Christmas party was warm and full of appreciation for loved ones. We had such grace for the normal annoyances as our minds were tethered to the thought it could be the last time we got to be annoyed by them for a long time. We soaked in the cold weather on our cheeks as we knew it would soon be replaced with warmth from the hot sun in the middle of dry season. The normal “over the top” of the season was simplified; gifts were practical because we couldn’t pack much. And to tie a perfect red velvet bow on it, we woke up Christmas morning to quiet snowflakes landing on piles of overnight snow. I remember looking out of the window, so early the streetlights played on the newly laid blanket, thanking God for that gift. It doesn’t snow much in southern Missouri, and never on Christmas Eve.
Christmas had come to mean more to our family’s adventure than just warm feelings and celebrations of our Saviour….it was the time of year our journey began. Several years before the perfect Christmas, my very convicted-into-action husband would become disillusioned with the entire season. Wanting to lead his family into a right posture for this sacred time of year, he announced to me days before Christmas that we would be cancelling the holiday all together. “Take the gifts back. Tell others we won’t be at the parties. Everyone has it all wrong and we aren’t doing it anymore.”
My closet full of carefully thought out gifts, wrapped beautifully (because I get into that kind of thing) for our kids, family, (for him!) were joining me in the internal panic that followed. How could we offend everyone? How could we reject the thoughtful gifts from others? (Guess what Enneagram number I relate with sometimes?)
So I will ramble for a sentence as you imagine the “discussion” that followed. Here is what we landed on. We wanted everything we did to matter, to be intentional, to be in response to what God was asking of us. We took a look at how we did Christmas and decided to change some things. We limited gifts for our kids and we involved them in using that money to bless others. We developed a lifestyle of intentionality.
We also wanted our tree decorating to have meaning too. As I sit here typing I am trying to remember where it came from, but I can’t. Let’s just say somewhere along the way we found the Christmas nail and the Christmas angel. The Christmas nail is the spike driven into Jesus hands (Ah…all the warm holiday feels- ha). Each year we let a different child (or perhaps a homeless college student) hide this special ornament in the tree. We aren’t allowed to talk about it except on the night we decorate. It is a secret for only our family. We carry the knowledge that the birth that we celebrate was planned for the death that would follow. The death that would save us all.
Then my husband would hide the Christmas angel in the living room somewhere and on Christmas Eve the kids would look for it with flashlights and we would read the story of what she observed that first Christmas night. (Are you picturing my college and high school children now doing this? It never gets old.) It was this mindset of “what truly matters” that eventually lead my family to celebrate many Chrsitmases in Africa.
The Christmases in Africa that followed the perfect Christmas were very different. Smells of cinnamon and memories of toes wiggling to get warm by the fireplace were replaced with unfamiliar customs. There were no shops decked out to get you in the holiday mood in October. Vaguely familiar Christmas songs with unfamiliar words were our soundtracks. Balloons and toilet paper decorated for the season while stews and warm sodas were shared. Learning curves with very delayed mail meant there would be a Christmas with no gifts thrown in there too.
In our carefully packed and weighed luggage, however, we found we had room for an ancient looking nail and a sturdy glass angel. No matter what the temperature, or who was doing the annoying that year, we stopped and took time to remember what mattered. A nail and an angel have been our constant reminders of that since THE Christmas that changed so much for our family. It doesn’t get more “Hallmarkish than that”.
What have been the constants for you or your family? How have the holidays changed for you?
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