We all have images of the idyllic Christmas. The perfect candlelight church service on Christmas Eve. The perfect symmetrical fir tree, decorated with a perfect mix of shiny glass baubles and sparkling with hundreds of lights. Perfectly wrapped color-coordinated gifts rest beneath the tree. On Christmas morning perfectly behaved children wearing matching pajamas unwrap their presents, thrilled and brimming with gratitude for each item. Singing carols by the piano while the fire crackles. Sipping mulled cider. We catch a glimpse of a gentle dusting of new snow through windows that house a single candle, while we take an orderly march to the dining room where an extraordinary dinner awaits. A perfect Christmas.
Thanks to Clement Moore for the “visions of sugarplums” dancing in our heads. Thanks to Charles Dickens for “God bless us, everyone.” Thanks to Currier and Ives for sleighs through the snow. Thanks to Mel Torme for “chestnuts roasting on an open fire.” Thanks to Frank Capra for “it really is a wonderful life.” Thanks to them and others we all have an image of what Christmas should be.
I will vouch for the perfect candlelight Christmas Eve service. We have been to many over the years where the music is divine, the sermon is lovingly spoken, and the warmth in the church is genuine. A final chorus of Silent Night by candlelight may move you to tears. That actually happens.
Meanwhile, back at home….
Our tree is decorated with a mish-mash of stuff that reflects our thirty years of married life: collected ornaments from here and there, some antique pieces from his family and mine, crafts our children made in their youth, and items that each of our girls has received in their stocking since their first Christmas. It’s more eclectic than elegant, but it’s us, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
When our kids were little we made a habit of reading The Night Before Christmas as we coaxed them to bed. We made sure they were sleeping before that requisite visit from St. Nick. In the morning, we always tried to keep it civilized, with each person giving each gift the respect it (and the gift-giver) was due. We tried. For the most part, I think we succeeded. But perfection is not attainable.
Many years ago one of our children received a gift that she didn’t really want. It’s not that she hated it. It’s just that it wasn’t what she wanted for Christmas. She still won’t let us forget that, and I think it was about 15 years ago.
If we found ourselves in front of a crackling Yule log that would be a sure sign of disaster, since we don’t have a fireplace.
Carols around the piano? That’s all well and good for those who can carry a tune, which I can’t. One daughter is an exceptional piano player. She can open the book and play any music in front of her. For me, it’s lucky that Pandora has some really nice Christmas mixes.
Yet we keep trying. We shop for just the right gifts, wrap them in pretty paper, bake just the right goodies, put on our Christmas finery and hope for the best.
Perfection? Nope. But in the end it doesn’t really matter. When the church is dark, the family room floor is a mess, and the kids are bouncing off the walls from all the cookies consumed, what really matters is that we remind ourselves we’re celebrating Jesus birthday, and that we’re doing it together.
Wishing you all a joyous Christmas!