Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Keep Your Eyes on Your Own Nativity

I just gleaned some useful Christmas advice over at Faith and Family Live!. Commenter StephC was responding to a mother who is where most of us have been at one time or another: overwhelmed. Tired, out of steam, even a tad hopeless -- and riding the Polar Express full speed into That Most Wonderful Time of the Year.

Steph's advice? Keep your eyes on your own nativity.

I have a dear neighbor right across the street who wakes up the morning after Thanksgiving, gathers a few capable sons, and proceeds to put up every last Christmas decoration. It's pretty; it's tasteful; most impressive of all, it's done -- all before I'm finished de-boning the turkey. Yes, I peer through my front window and see my friend moving with great purpose while I shuffle around in my slippers and nurse my second cup of coffee.

I could engage in a lot of comparisons, but I'd much rather take Steph's advice: Keep your eyes on your own nativity. Or lack thereof. Because that nativity of ours? The day after Thanksgiving, believe me, it was still sitting in the attic.

No matter what our spiritual disposition, it is an undeniable fact that Advent and Christmas bring a degree of busyness and stress. For the record, I had my first moment of pre-Christmas panic this very morning. You know, a moment of Oh My Goodness I've Barely Made a Dent in My Shopping, and I Just Bought Advent Candles Yesterday. This was quickly followed by a major reality check, a trip to confession on unrelated issues, and a lengthy venture into the attic. The nativity is now down!

This was just the first of many forays into that vast repository of stuff we call the attic. Our attic. Our attic is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it's the only generous storage space in this house built in the 50s for people who must have had two kids and maybe three complete outfits of clothing. The closets are minuscule. But the attic? It's large.

Some years I take down Christmas with the same care that I put it up. I label boxes; I discard broken and unused decorations; I do a little organizing as I go. Other years, I pull down the attic stairs, do the heave ho, and slam.

Last year must have been just such a year. Why, you ask? I had no excuses whatsoever. Four of the last five Christmas seasons have found me early pregnant or nursing a newborn. Great excuses to pare back, keep it simple, even be a bit slovenly with the take down. The year I was expecting John, I crawled through the entire season  with one eye on the clock wondering when I could finagle my next nap and one eye on the bathroom door wondering how soon I'd be hurtling myself through it. Ugh! Worth every last ounce of suffering, but ugh! Somehow we managed the trek to Michigan for the holidays that year. I think my logic went something like this: I can remain in the fetal position here in Georgia and do all the shopping and cooking by myself, or I can manage to haul our sorry selves to Detroit, assume the fetal position there, and let my mother-in-law and sisters wait on me hand and foot. No brainer!

I remember the trip home was heinous with a capital H. I was throwing up before we left my sister's house. I was throwing up as we crossed the border into Ohio. We had a portable DVD player that I was known for employing with great moderation and discernment. On that trip I said, "Have at it, boys! I'll see you in Augusta!"

It was the quietest fifteen hour drive we've ever had.

God willing we will all celebrate many, many Christmases. Some years find us in fine form, ready to enter the season of preparation, and excited to celebrate the birth of Christ on Christmas day. Other years find us (okay, me) scrounging for Advent candles on December 23rd and happy to come up with three burgundies and a red when purple and pink prove to be somewhat elusive. True story. While three burgundies and a red might make fine choices when buying wine, they're just a touch out of the liturgical norm when preparing for Christmas.

Oh well. Keep your eyes on your own nativity!

My dear friend went to confession one Advent. She lamented to the priest how far short she felt she was falling in pulling together a holy season of preparation. This priest is a good man, a holy man, a man who loves liturgy and the church seasons. You know what he told her? Relax and enjoy your family.

Nearly every magazine in circulation is now featuring a story on dealing with stress this holiday season. They'll print to do lists and last minute buying guides and handy calendars you can post on the fridge.To be sure, celebrations -- all of them -- require work. But Father Brett had it right -- it's also about simply enjoying your family.

For us that means lots of egg nog -- Tim's favorite drink. It means multiple viewings of Elf and The Santa Clause -- liturgically bankrupt and really very funny. It means boiled peanuts and chocolate peanut butter cheesecake and potato soup.

It means pulling out the Advent candles, even if a few days late. It means writing out cards to people I look forward to hearing from once a year. It means fun and busyness and a gentle tug back to the true meaning behind all this hurly burly.

And this year -- to increase our joy and to minimize my stress -- it means taking Steph's wise counsel and keeping my eyes on my own nativity.


Mary said...

Love this post! I have found this year's Christmas preparations amazingly stress free so far. It really doesn't make sense given that it's the end of the school year here in Australia as well, and there is no attic to pull last year's decorations from. We are completely starting over. My advent wreath this year? A paper plate with a print out of a wreath pasted to it and tea lights set on it! And yes, the tea lights are all white. But my son helped me put it together and he has worked out a schedule so everyone in the family gets a turn lighting and blowing out the candles. We know that shopping will be minimal this year because our extra funds are going toward plane fares. My greatest excitement is that my girls are flying halfway around the world to arrive on Christmas Day. Our family will be together, even if only for a short while, and all the other stuff that causes stress doesn't really matter.

Kelly said...

Mary - What great thoughts! Having my children fly home for Christmas would be the best present ever.

Patti loved her time in England for many reasons, but one of the biggest was that they had less stuff.

A clean start!

God bless you.

christinelaennec said...

I would find it sad to watch someone completely deck the halls the day after Thanksgiving - what is there to look forward to? I like the unfolding of Christmastime. This year we are doing less, just because of my daughter's illness and our subsequent exhaustion. I usually do a lot of baking but asked if they minded if I didn't and the answer was: "no! let's relax! There's always next year." We haven't put the tree up yet because there hasn't been a clear few hours, but when we do we will enjoy it.

Sometimes less is more.

If it makes you feel any better, our advent candles are all white!

Kelly said...

Christine - I think it's so true that if slow down one year, we can always do things differently the next. We can bake one or two items instead of six. Decorating, baking, gifts -- it's not an all or nothing prospect. (Although the older I get, the more I'd like the gifts to be next to nothing).

I'd sit in front of that fireplace and knit if I were you!

Hope the Dafter is continuing to improve.