Do you know that person who gets a little too into Christmas? Someone who watches Elf in April, the Christmas tree shows up in October, and Christmas lights are outside the house by early November (at the latest). You’re talking about me. At least you were. I even remember in September of 2012 when I was in Namibia, I would listen to the Justin Bieber Christmas album all the time. (One of my friends in California texted me late last night to tell me the Justin Bieber Christmas album was being played within my friend’s home in California last night, and wanted me to know because I dig the album that much. If that ends your time of reading this post, I’m sorry because it’s about to be good. And by the way, it’s a good album. Especially JB’s collaboration with Boyz II Men.) I have always loved Christmas, so it was stunning for me to hit a point in my life when I didn’t want Christmas to come anymore.
Last year for the first time in my life I didn’t want to celebrate Christmas. I didn’t listen to Christmas music very much. I kept trying to get myself into the Christmas spirit, but the more I tried, the less I wanted Christmas and all of its lights, snowflakes, and songs to come. When you don’t want to celebrate Christmas, there isn’t a magic “Hide From Christmas” button that you can push and it all goes away. You can’t outrun Christmas. Every time I thought of Santa, Frosty, or Rudolph, I thought of my mom again. I knew that no matter how loud I sang Christmas carols or how many gifts I might give, I couldn’t get Mom back. She was gone, and I felt her loss in the cold sting of winter. It wasn’t just that she had died; for me the sweetness of Christmas died with her.
The spirit of Christmas in my heart had been laid to rest. Instead of the warmth of holiday memories, I heard Churches making sure their members knew to say, “Merry Christmas” in response to every clerk who said, “Happy Holidays.” (Yeah, that’ll teach them.) I remembered the posts people shared about how Starbucks had chosen a simple two-toned cup without reindeer and ornaments thus waging a war on Christmas. (Because the birth of Christ was about reindeer and ornaments.) I had flashbacks to a co-worker showing me a website that tallied the deaths on Black Friday from people literally trampling over others so that they could hide a gift under the Christmas tree for their child. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing that Christmas had died in my heart. We had made it into something other than what it was meant to be.
A few weeks ago, I realized Christmas was right around the corner. I was having dinner with a close friend who lost his father a few years ago. We talked about how traditions like Christmas just don’t feel the same anymore when you lose a parent. As I thought about the Christmas season ahead, I realized this was going to be something to be endured. What I once looked forward to, I now began to dread. I would hear those songs that made me think of setting up the tree as a family, the road trips to West Virginia to celebrate Christmas with grandparents as we did growing up, or the fun little traditions we had in our family. These were the days on the not so far off horizon. Nat King Cole would play in the background, and my mom’s smile would appear before my eyes, and then the memory would slowly fade to black like the final scene of old movies just before the credits roll.
It was just a few days ago, I was reading the second chapter of Luke. This is the moment when Luke talks about an angel appearing to shepherds in a field telling them that Christ was born. The story began to play out in my mind, how the Christ was laid in a manger as a newborn. I remembered how Jesus lived a life of love and grace offering mercy to every person who wanted to receive forgiveness for the wrongs they had done God, themselves, and others. Then, I remembered how Jesus was nailed to a cross, laid in a tomb, only to rise from the dead three days later.
This made me think Jesus was first laid in a wooden box as a baby, and was stretched out on a wooden cross 33 years later. Christ began his life being laid down in a manger made from a tree, and ended his life being raised up on a cross made from a tree. The manger led to a life, a life led to a cross, the cross to a grave, and the grave to a resurrection. Christmas is about birth, life, death, burial, and resurrection.
This is why I’m not waiting until after Thanksgiving to put the Christmas tree up this year. (All of you holiday purists calm down. I am being thankful, and will celebrate this holiday as well.) I’m listening to Christmas music already. The songs of Christmas mean more to me now than they have in years past. In just over a month, the lights will reflect off the snow, and we’ll share gifts with the people we love. When I look at the Christmas tree this year, I will remember that a manger and a cross were made from trees. The Christmas tree is going up early because it is a symbol for any heart feeling the cold sting of winter. The Christmas tree reminds me the story is not over yet because of resurrection. The Christmas tree whispers through ornaments, lights, angels, and stars, “There is hope.”