Letting Go of Christmas

Sunday, December 1, 2019

 Christmas has been one of my least favorite holidays for three years counting.

I can chalk it up to a few contributing factors. The stress of buying gifts is overwhelming. I'm not great at gifting, especially when the gifts are expected and come with a lot of pressure. My kid's wish lists become more complex and expensive each year. What I gift my husband is rarely what he secretly hopes to receive, so in recent years we've been purchasing our own Christmas gifts. This is an effective strategy in that we both get what we want, but the anticipation and surprise are gone.

Stores are awful from Black Friday to New Year's Day. Family expectations are high, and with them comes inevitable stress and disappointment. Its enough to make a woman want to throw in the proverbial towel.
My childlike wonder surrounding the holidays disappeared the year my parents divorced. I had been married for three years and had a two-year old daughter. Suddenly we had nowhere I wanted to spend the holidays. My family ended up staying in Phoenix and celebrating alone, which we did for the remaining three years we lived there.
For the first two years I bandaged the seeping sadness with celebrating Jesus. All our Christmas decor and activities were absolutely Christ-centered. The celebration soothed me during the transition through my parent's divorce. Sure, there were no more six-course Christmas Eve family dinners, no more Advent Activities countdown, no more gathering at my childhood home around the huge tree and Willow Tree nativity, but there was a baby Jesus and that made everything better.

Slowly, Jesus Christmas started to fall apart. I learned about the history of the holidays, suddenly realizing that it was historically inaccurate to celebrate the birth of Jesus when he was very likely to have been born in the Spring around Easter. I learned that historically, most Christian holidays and traditions were kind of twisted celebrations that mixed bits of pagan ritual and Christianity into a palatable, church-approved celebration. Christian attitudes and beliefs were enforced in attempts to wipe ancient pagan beliefs from conquered peoples, and it worked wonderfully. Something about knowing this sucked the last bits of joy out of Christmas for me. If Christmas isn't about presents OR Jesus, what is it about anyway?
I'm still not sure. Just this last week, I spent Thanksgiving day scoping out the Black Friday ads, trying to get the best prices on toys for my kids that they don't really need but definitely will love. Black Friday I spent all day participating in the shameful tradition of consumerism, even taking my daughter early in the morning to let her see what the excitement was all about. All the while, a voice in my heart reminded me about shopping small, environmental impacts of mass consumerism, minimalism, essentialism, intentionality, and climate change. Yet, in the middle of a Layton, Utah Target Supercenter, I had a hard time feeling any bit of bad about it. Which definitely makes me a little uncomfortable now.

My Christmas shopping is widely done. Now I have an entire month of nothing looming in front of me. The Christ-centered decor and traditions are empty for me now. The faithful LDS girl inside me feels a lot of shame about that, but its the truth. I can fill a few days with baking, gifting neighbor gifts, and a few scattered parties, but my overall feeling about the holidays now is confusion and sadness. There is no Christmas Spirit in my heart. Bah, humbug! 
What can I do to make this holiday meaningful? For someone who can find the beauty in a fallen leaf or earthworm, I'm having an especially difficult time with this holiday that once meant so much to me. Maybe its time to let Christmas go.
Maybe its time to let the gifts mean nothing.
Maybe its time to let Jesus rest for a while.
Even let go of the notion of service to others.
Though this all sounds terribly sad and disconcerting, especially for a Christian audience, I feel a strong undercurrent of surety and peace about this idea.

Stillness. That is the Christmas that calls to me.
A walk in the snow with my dog, taking pictures of frozen, sleeping Mother Earth, writing in a coffee shop, hosting an intimate dinner party with friends, a tree with lights, hot tea, a stack of unread books, a fur blanket, and sex by the fireplace. These are the things that seem to be most purposeful and full of promise. I am surprised by this deep desire to turn inward. Not to do inner work, not to shame or blame myself inside, not to do anything but rest. And rest seems to be the thing society is hell-bent on not letting anyone achieve during the holiday season.
Maybe I ought to be hell-bent on resting anyway.
Maybe this is my flavor of rebellion and activism for now. A conscious resting. Purposeful care of the self. Meaningful connections. Careful stillness and meditative solitude. 
Maybe in the spring I'll wake with the vigor of the daffodils.
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