Wednesday, December 21, 2011
John Grisham wrote a novel, Skipping Christmas, some years ago. Have you read it?
I believe it was in the moments before leaving for our church's pageant last Sunday - searching for a lost shoe behind a stack of Christmas books; mentally rehearsing the list of stuff I had to remember to bring; stepping on pine needles in bare feet while avoiding a newly broken ornament; hollering at Aidan to bring his script along; cajoling Leo into rehearsing his line, one more time - when the thought flashed, in blinking lights, across the marquee of my mind's eye - what would it would be like if we could just skip all of this, one year?
Arriving to church 4 minutes late, I worried if I'd get a glare from the pageant director for being tardy. I felt the stress weighing down on me, could sense it among the many parents tittering about, trying to coax toddlers into sheep's clothing; attempting to get the wise men to stop being such... wise asses; persuading the angels not to hit each other with their stars-on-a-stick. It wasn't just the pageant - it was the realization I'd had that morning, that Christmas was just one week away - and yet the cookies weren't baked; scarves weren't knitted; gifts weren't wrapped; last-minute items were still on the "to buy" list.....and on and on. I felt panicked and paralyzed, all at once.
And then, the pageant began. It was a lovely pageant. Aidan, in his role of Joseph, delivered his lines confidently and proudly, looking important and in-charge next to his sweet friend, playing the part of Mary. Leo, acting as the Angel Gabriel, bellowed into the microphone, "Fear Not, Mary! God is with you!" And Pax, along with half a dozen other toddlers, played the part of the errant and wandering sheep quite beautifully, save for a short game of chase around the communion rails with none other than a pastor's son. As we smiled and laughed, I began to feel the burden lift from my shoulders as I watched our children deliver the story of Jesus's birth, happily and excitedly. Still, I was antsy to leave, to get home and start checking items off my endless list. I'd made a promise to the kids though, - that we'd stay to help decorate the tree in the sanctuary - and I groaned and moaned, knowing I had no choice but to honor it.
But then it happened - one of those moments in time that you remember for always, one of those moments when you are in "the zone," where you know how good it is, even as it is happening. So you drink deeply and thirstily and you are aware, so aware of every sound and smell and taste and sight and feeling, because you are present...
In the sanctuary, children unpacked and unwrapped large and ornate ornaments from boxes to hang on a towering and fragrant pine tree. Older kids lifted younger kids up to reach branches higher and higher. Grown-ups stood on ladders, adjusting the star on top and the white twinkling lights. In another corner, two men stood on ladders, taking down the huge advent wreath and replacing it with a large, pointed, brightly lit star. Three women dressed and undressed the altar, changing out the blues of advent for celebratory whites celebrating Jesus' birth. Two trumpets and the organist practiced "Joy to the World!" as Sunday School teachers moved out props from the pageant. Ushers mounted candle holders to the ends of each pew as the Pastor moved from one person to the next, answering questions, giving input, praising efforts. And I - I stood in the middle of it all, in the middle of the most beautiful chaos and most harmonious noise I've experienced. The finest Hollywood directors could not have orchestrated a better scene. And all I could think was - skip this? Are you kidding??
There have been many other, smaller moments when I've been so glad not to be skipping Christmas:
The parties! My, have we enjoyed the parties this year. Jeff and I even hired a babysitter for one and had a fabulous time at our party-date. I can't imagine skipping the parties.
In the midst of my angst about not finishing homemade Christmas gifts in time, I found myself asking, why do I do this to myself? Why didn't I start sooner? Why didn't I just buy stuff instead?... and then the gifts got finished, and wrapped, and each of them - the ones I made; the ones Jeff made; the ones each of the kids have made - are more beautiful and more perfect than I could have hoped for.... I can't imagine skipping homemade.
Stressed about needing to bake so many cookies (11 dozen in all - most of which will be distributed to the patients on the hospital floor where Jeff works), I wondered why on earth I thought it was a good idea to have Pax help me with the cookie prep. And then... I witnessed just why it was a good idea. He ran the hand mixer, cracked eggs, rolled dough, and sugared cookies like a seasoned chef.... I can't imagine skipping cookie baking with small boy.
Puzzled over the number of ornaments hanging up on our Advent calendar, Aidan, Leo, and I quickly realized what had happened: Pax had surreptitiously taken out the remaining ornaments from the calendar's pockets and hung them carefully on the lowest branch of the small advent tree - the only branch he could reach. We laughed and laughed and giggled some more over our mischievous little elf boy. I can't imagine skipping that kind of laughter.
Piling into our car after bath many evenings, we drive around the neighborhood, admiring the beautiful light displays in our cozy, sweet community. I can't imagine skipping the lights show.
In the end, as it is with Skipping Christmas, we realize that we cannot skip Christmas. And why would we want to? For when we are able to step back, let go of what doesn't matter, embrace what does matter, that is when we are Doing Christmas. We Do Christmas for each other. For our children, our community, our friends, and our family. Because of the joy we get from seeing each other's houses lit up in lights. From watching our children perform in the pageant. From celebrating at parties, swapping cookies, from time spent together making gifts, from laughing over mischief, from so many more moments that wouldn't - couldn't - possibly happen if we skipped Christmas.