Wednesday, December 18, 2013

It's the Little Things that make Christmas

Gosh, what a busy week it has been! Like many of you, there is more to do than hours in the day, and yet, I have to continually remind myself that Advent is a time of peace….of hope….of joy, and that the true purpose of this season has nothing to do with the “stuff” I have to do. It is, after all, the “little things” that make this a season of joy.

I’ve written before about some of the wonderful Christmas’ seasons that I experienced over the years. Sometimes, in my quiet time, I like to sit in the darkness of a room illuminated only by the lights of my tree and nativity scene, and remember those special holidays. It often causes me to smile when I think of the moments shared with my parents and grandparents and the Christmas masses I attended for nearly 40 years that were celebrated my dear priest friend, Fr. Sauter, all of whom now celebrate Christmas in heaven. I’m often overcome with a sense of peace, and feel loved, secure, and very happy thinking about those days, even though I miss them dearly, especially this time of year.

Ironically, not one of those favorite holiday memories are of “big things”, but rather are of experiences, moments shared, conversations, things that happened, etc.  I can’t tell you how many different kinds of cookies were on the cookie trays when I was kid; but I can remember the fun I had baking and decorating cookies with my mom, sister, and grandmother. I can’t remember how many….or how extravagant the Christmas cards were that I received any given year, but I do remember the joy of receiving a hand-made card from some of my elementary students or a niece/nephew. In fact, I’ve saved many of them.  I don’t remember how “many” gifts or how beautifully decorated they were that I received any given year, but I can recall many gifts that were chosen especially for me….made especially for me….or extremely meaningful “gifts from the heart” like the year my aunt and uncle paid my taxes when I was unemployed and delinquent or the home-made plastic canvas decorations my grandpa made each year with the year on it.  Even though I used to be the “Martha Stewart” of Christmas, I can’t even recall any particular d├ęcor for any particular Christmas tree, but I do remember some ornaments that were made either by myself in grade school, my nieces/nephews/students, or grandparents. The memory and love of those individuals is felt each year when I unwrap those precious ornaments, even if I don’t put them on my tree. I remember things like “Christmas caroling”, “Grandma’s cinnamon rolls”, “sponsoring a needy family with the Borawski’s”, “leaving cookies and milk for Santa”, “watching Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer on TV”, and “being the one who got to put the baby Jesus in the manger on Christmas morning.” It’s the traditions…..shared experiences….family time…..that put meaning into the holidays, not the crazy, busy, things we spend so much time, energy, and money into and are trying to frantically get done this week.

When I think of wonderful Christmas memories, it’s the people and the traditions that made them special. I have a big….most would call it “ugly”…Styrofoam Santa face hanging on my wall in my living room and a beat-up old Santa Claus figurine with plastic boots, ratted up hair, and a dingy velvet suit setting on the shelf.  These two items have been a part of my Christmas celebrations for 50 years now….since my very first Christmas, first at my own childhood home and that of my grandparents, and after their deaths, in my own home. It would NOT feel like Christmas without them, not because they are gorgeous and lovely, but because of the people they represent and the memories attached to them.

With all that being said….I’m giving myself (and you, too if you’re stressed like me) this reminder to put my time, effort, and energy into the “little things” that matter, not the things that the world is trying to tell us matter. After all….what do you want your children/grandchildren/friends/family…..even yourself….to remember about this Christmas 5 or 10 or 50 years from now?  If you are honest with yourself, it’s not how beautifully decorated the gifts are (that’s why they make gift bags) or that you had 26 different kinds of cookies (you shouldn’t be eating them anyway) or that you opened up 14 gifts on Christmas Eve (who do you really need anyway)?  So…take a break….watch a Christmas movie….call or visit a friend/neighbor….and allow the true meaning of Advent to permeate your heart and fill you peace, so that you may spend the rest of this week doing those things that are essential and that matter the most. Certainly there are things we must do to clean, decorate, prepare, cook, wrap, etc….but don’t lose focus on what really matters in the end.   Make it a joyful day and take good care of yourself!