Two-thirds of the lights on our Christmas tree don’t light up. It’s also leaning a bit to the right. My Christmas dishes are still in a box in the garage. The girls keep asking when Daddy is going to put the lights up on our house (Ummm…). Hayes’ stocking is anonymously hanging from the mantle next to his sisters’ monogrammed ones. I’m not sending out Christmas cards. I don’t do Elf on the Shelf. My kids don’t know “Away in a Manger.”
Even as I type that last one, I cringe a bit. I mean, what have I been doing all day if not singing religious carols?
The biggest part of me knows Christmas is not made up of these things. The biggest part of me knows they won’t rise up against us all to ruin the entire holiday.
But there’s a little sliver of me that feels a prick of guilt, like I haven’t painted the perfect setting for my children to experience the wonder and whimsy of Christmas, much less live up to others’ beautiful traditions I see posted on the web.
I worry, Is my children’s Christmas experience being hindered by me? So I think back to my childhood Christmases and try to put my finger on what it was exactly that made it all so magical.
I close my eyes and instantly, there I am standing in the middle of my grandparents’ entryway.
I see the Christmas tree nestled into the corner with colorful lights and presents spilling from beneath into the middle of the living room. I see my mom, Nana, and aunts sitting on the couch holding hands, catching up on all the scuttlebutt about town while the men display just how many brain cells have been dedicated to sports’ teams, specifically the Longhorns. I see Poppi stooping down to sweep up the dirt piles we’d tracked in while unloading our suitcases.
I hear laughter, rambunctious screams, and the hum of the dust buster (he couldn’t quite get all of the specks with the broom alone). The smell of sugar cookies wafts through the room as I pop open the Tupperware lid and sneak a couple just before stuffing a handful of green and red M&M’s into my mouth from the crystal dish by the door. I hear Super Mario disappear into a green pipe (dudda-dudda-dudda) and head outside to enjoy a walk to 7-11 for some Slurpees with my cousins in the 70-degree December weather.
I can still feel the excitement of being together, of arrival, of anticipation quenched, the feeling of love so thick and sticky it’s unavoidable. Hugs and kisses are given out like candy and received like healing balms. Nobody can escape them but, then again, nobody wants to.
I remember it all so vividly. Yet, some things I don’t.
I don’t remember anything being especially decorated. I don’t remember Pottery Barn centerpieces or adorable buntings hung from the mantle or expensive holiday pillows or monogrammed stockings. I don’t remember time-consuming DIY projects or a Pinterest-worthy tree or anything that would make one declare, “That is so precious. I must Instagram it immediately.” Or tac it to the church bulletin board or whatever you did in 1994.
That all might have been there. But if it was, I don’t remember.
My grandparents’ house was not particularly beautiful. Its brick facade was plain and modest. Upon its off-white walls hung dozens of family photos and my Nana’s artwork (or that of her best friend Mable). Its rooms were filled with mismatched furniture (specifically the recliner that often doubled as my bed since I was the second-youngest cousin… as soon as my body relaxed into a doze, the recliner would jolt upright which made for very restful holidays.). Its narrow kitchen could have used a remodel (even though it had actually been remodeled) and the white square tile floor wouldn’t be found within a hundred miles of any designer’s portfolio.
But if asked the most beautiful place in the world as a child, that little house in Smithville, Texas would have been the uncontested winner. In my innocence, beauty was still dictated by joy, by love, by goodness. I had not yet been jaded by airbrushed, staged, or filtered photos. The epitome of beauty to that 9-year-girl was an 1,800 square foot ranch-style home with tan carpet and popcorn ceilings. T’is the beauty of the Christmas story.
That night with the cows and the straw and the literal crap, the scene didn’t look much like an Anthropologie catalog. You see, God didn’t even wrap the gift. He didn’t adorn it with a big tulle bow. He didn’t cover it with the most expensive of wrapping papers. God did not bother himself with trappings, tinsel, glitter. The beauty of that moment was not to be found in the package, but the contents.
God stooped down from the Heavens to place his infant son in a drafty stable as if to demand we recognize the beauty of humility. He picked this, this beginning. He chose to introduce a Savior to the world in this precise way because he knew our idols would someday reek of perfectionism and opulence, of measuring up and looking the part, of vanity.
The story is beautiful because he came. Not because he came in splendor. Not because he came in glory. Not because he came in luxury. But because he came at all.
Please God, I just want to come. Help me set everything else down and just come.
Sometimes I scurry about so distractedly, then look around and wonder, “Where is Jesus? He must be buried under the tubs of Christmas stuff.” And my house still doesn’t even look that good. #notwinning
This Christmas, I want to stop feeling the need to wrap up and dress up and put up and pin up. I want to empty my hands of All The Things so that those hands are accessible to others. I want to be a gatherer of imperfect people, not perfect pictures. I want to prioritize the preparing so that it’s less about creating the most beautiful home for everyone else to envy and more about creating the most holy space for my family to sit at the tiny feet of a tiny Savior.
Crafting and valuing beauty is not bad. Some of you can do both well. You can have the perfectly constructed winter wonderland in your home without sacrificing your sanity or your budget or your focus or your relationship with your husband (because some husbands love decorations, so I hear). But some of us have to choose. And sometimes I don’t choose well.
When “doing it all” becomes a burden, we are missing the point. Christmas is a story of undeserved grace, of every burden being lifted.
This year, I pray I may be content to sit in the stable. That I may find beauty in the meekness of a humble manger and stop trying to manufacture it everywhere else. Jesus is easily found in spaces untouched by my desire to put my own greatness on display. I must be careful not to hide him.
In twenty years, I can only hope that my children’s memories will be similar to mine: full of laughter, love, and ugly houses.
Just kidding. I still want a cute house. So shoot me.