When I was a child, we had an Advent Calendar that my Mom had made. It was made of red felt with white felt numbers to count the days and little ribbons under each number where she would tie Brach’s Christmas Nougat candies. My sisters and I looked forward each evening to taking one more candy off and seeing Christmas get one day closer.
I don’t know about you, but for me, the Advent calendar was never so much about the candy (although the candies were yummy), it was about the anticipation. Each day I would look at that calendar and see Christmas inching closer and closer. With my own children, the Advent Calendar held miniature ornaments, and day by day, each of my children would remove one more ornament to add to the miniature Christmas Tree on our kitchen table. By Christmas Eve, our little tree was full of Christmas cheer.
Somehow, as adults we often lose that sense of anticipation, especially if there are no young children in the household. We make ourselves to-do lists full of holiday shopping, holiday cooking, and holiday parties. It can be easy to let it overwhelm us, filling our days with stress and anxiety rather than with joyful anticipation. For some, because Christmas is a time we look forward to celebrating with family and friends, loneliness and loss of loved ones is felt ever more keenly. When finances are tight, we worry about making ends meet and we may fear our loved ones will feel overlooked if we cannot provide according to some unwritten code of expectations defined by the media, advertising, other people, or our own imaginations.
It may be a cliché, but perhaps we need to stop and smell the roses – or in this case, the cinnamon and nutmeg and pine.
I am not advocating that you eliminate all your shopping and cooking and holiday parties, although if you are feeling overwhelmed, you might want to re-think your priorities. I am suggesting that you pour yourself a cup of coffee with your favorite holiday creamer (or a cup of tea or eggnog) and sit down in your favorite chair to ponder your favorite Christmas memories. What made that memory so special? Was it the anticipation of seeing the face of your loved one when they opened their gift on Christmas morning? Was it helping to set the table while grandma was in the kitchen wearing her holiday apron, pulling a deliciously roasted turkey from the oven? Was it laughing together over some silly nonsense until you thought you would burst? Was it celebrating a special family tradition? Was it working in a soup kitchen or participating in a giving tree? Was it remembering the baby in the manger as you sang Silent Night by candlelight on Christmas Eve?
One favorite Christmas memory I have from my childhood is decorating the house and the tree. For me, the best part was always to open the box with the manger scene. The figures in our manger scene were a little old and worn, but they were special to me. There was a little wooden structure, like a shed or lean-to, where the figures would stand. At the apex of the roof was a small nail where one of the angels would hang, keeping watch. I always placed the second angel off to the side and in the back, looking on in adoration at Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus in the manger. There were shepherds and animals, and of course, the three wise men (who actually didn’t arrive until much later, but that didn’t matter to me.) I placed each of the figures so that they stood focusing on baby Jesus, gazing in wonder at the infant Savior.
When I listen to the Christmas story, I am struck anew by the wonder that the very Son of God would place himself, as a tiny helpless baby, into the hands of ordinary human beings. And that sense of wonder re-kindles a sense of anticipation in my heart.
So, what are your favorite Christmas memories? Do they revolve around people and the times you’ve spent celebrating together? Do they revolve around holiday traditions?
Have you lost the sense of Christmas wonder and anticipation you once had?
Maybe it’s time to start a new tradition. Maybe you need to make time for that something that will re-kindle your wonder and anticipation for Christmas. If your loved ones are no longer with you, maybe you can help make someone else a favorite Christmas memory.
Meanwhile, grab another cup of coffee (or tea or eggnog) and stop and smell the cinnamon and nutmeg and pine.