A few years ago when my husband and I were expecting our first child, I was busy trying to rethink how Christmas was going to look. At the time, we were spending Christmas Eve with my husband's family and driving back to our house 30 minutes away at bedtime. On Christmas morning, we would wake up and read the Christmas story and exchange gifts at 6:00am and then drive two hours away to my Granny's for brunch, which was around 10am. After brunch, we'd drive to my dad's farm a few miles down the road from Granny and spend a couple of hours there. Then around 3:00, we'd drive two hours back to my husband's mom's, where we'd eat dinner and exchange gifts with them.
As I sat pondering our first Christmas with a child of our own, I was in tears. Christmas Eve was a tradition with Jimmy's family that began when his dad died. We couldn't cut that out. And Christmas brunch at Granny's? I was confident Christmas couldn't come without that. And Christmas at the farm? How could I be 10 minutes away and not spend time there? And Christmas dinner with Jimmy's family? It's the only time we'd see Jimmy's brother, Tommy, and his wife, Tracy, because they spent Christmas Eve with Tracy's family. And we really wanted to have something special with our family... just us. How? How? How could we do everything with a six month old in tow?
Before it even happened I was lamenting the loss of a quiet family Christmas where our kids would be nestled all snug in their beds and awaken to a relaxed morning of family devotions and gifts and food and laughter. Then one day we were riding in a car to who-knows-where and I was reading a little book I picked up at the Christian bookstore. The name of the book was 52 Simple Ways to Make Christmas Special. Its author's name wasn't even on the front cover, but on the inside I found out Jan Dargatz wrote the little book that changed Christmas. Well, actually it wasn't the whole book that changed Christmas. It was the "Introduction."
I'd love to tell you to buy the book and read it. But, alas, as far as I can tell, it is now out of print and available only on the secondary book market... and not so reliably there.
So, I'm going to share with you that introduction. Full credit for writing it goes to Jan Dargatz. All praise and glory for the revolutionary way it transformed my life... that goes to the Most High.
Christmas is not just a day. It is a full season with three traditional parts:
*The sober, reflective, preparatory time of Advent, which comes twenty-one to twenty-eight days before Christmas Day. It is during this time that the Church, traditionally, has prepared itself for the coming of Jesus the Christ: His past coming as a squalling infant into the dark grotto of a Bethlehem stable; His future coming as King of kings and Lord of lords, the Messiah who will rule and reign forever; and His present coming into our individual lives and our church communities as living Lord, Redeemer, Savior, Healer, Deliverer, and ever-present Friend of friends.
*The grand celebration of Christmastide, the twelve days beginning with Christmas Day. It is during this time that Christians around the world have traditionally "made merry" with joyous abandon. Christmastide is a time for family and friends, for singing and feasting, for sending greetings and hosting parties. It is a time for rejoicing that heaven has struck a path all the way to the very gates of hell and has invited every human being to walk upon it toward everlasting life.
*Epiphany, January 6, the day that the Church commemorates the arrival of the wise men from the East bearing their precious gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. It is a day traditionally associated with gift giving, a day for reflecting upon the Gift of gifts from a heavenly Father to a needy world. Many of us have combined the gift giving of Epiphany with the celebration of Christmas Day.
The three facets of the Christmas season have a wonderful harmony to them. The sober, reflective, quiet days of Advent give way to the glorious light and merriment of Christmas, and out of a spirit of joy and thanksgiving, gifts flow naturally.
In our culture today, the three seasons of Christmas seem to have become a little muddled. Our children often await Santa Claus more than the birth of the Christ child. We put up our Christmas trees just after Thanksgiving and take them down the day after Christmas rather than putting them up on Christmas Eve and enjoying them until Epiphany. We delight in the bustle and parties before Christmas Day and then wonder why we feel a little depressed and lonely in the days that follow it. By New Year's Day, the party seems to be over. We begin the new year in debt, dread taking down the lights on the house and bushes outside, resolve to embark on major life changes, and often harbor a lingering feeling of unfulfillment.
52 Simple Ways to Make Christmas Special is a challenge to return to tradition. It calls for Advent to be a personal advent, Christmastide to be a celebration, and Epiphany to be a glorious conclusion to the holiday season. This book provides ideas, loosely grouped, for each facet of the season...
Truly it is a marvel that we commemorate Christmas year after year after year. If Christmas were only a time of commercialized gift giving, we might have let it run its course years ago. No, our souls need Christmas. We have a deep human need to call attention to the origin of our faith on a periodic basis, to become aware once again that God reached down and extended to the earth His love incarnate. We need a starting-over point for our inner lives, a time for renewal, rededication, and rejoicing. Christmas is something we cannot do without.
Therefore, let's make Christmas even more special. Let's delight in it to the fullest! Let's mark the holidays as holy days. In so doing, we will find more meaning, more fulfillment, and more joy.
Looking at our schedule, we realized December 25th wasn't the be-all and end-all of observing Christmas. As we spread our visits out over the whole season, our time with loved ones actually increased since we weren't trying to see everyone within one 24-hour period. Instead of observing Christmas--watching it go by in a manic fury-- we began to celebrate Christmas... to slow down and seek the Christ whose birthday it proclaims.
Since that 52-Simple-Ways-rethink of the schedule, when I hear "Merry Christmas," I think, Yes, it is! And when someone says "Seasons Greetings," I want to say, Thanks for the reminder it's a whole season, not just December 25th! And "Happy Holidays"... I think I love that one best of all. They are, after all, happy, holy days!