Friday, December 26, 2014

Christmas: Expectations vs. Realities

The Christmas season this year began for me on Thanksgiving Eve when a heavy, wet snow blanketed our neighborhoods -- a winter wonderland at every turn.  What a perfect setting as I placed my decorations around the house that weekend.  I trimmed my tree with its much-loved ornaments, spread greenery through the house and on the porch, Santas on the sideboard, my grandmother's precious ornaments in a lovely bowl, snowmen smiling from their shelves, and candles everywhere.  How much better can it be?  Of course, as always in life, there are sad undercurrents that trouble our hearts even as we savor the joys of preparing for this most holy day.


The weeks before Christmas were filled with moments to treasure.  We enjoyed a quiet dinner with my brother-in-law one Sunday; the next weekend I attended a local holiday house tour with a good friend.  The houses were lovely old Victorians, and I was captivated by the warmth of the rich, old wood floors, mouldings and stairways, the nooks and crannies, and the decorations placed so carefully throughout the homes.  We returned to my own old house for a light supper of beef vegetable soup and bread -- a peaceful end to our special day.
There were so many wonderful small moments -- baking Christmas cookies with my little granddaughter, snuggling with all three grandchildren one evening as they watched a Christmas movie, impromptu pizza suppers with family members when we were all too tired to cook.  There was wonderful news of happiness -- the birth of a cousin's new granddaughter, an upcoming summer wedding for a much-loved friend.  But, there were also the bad times -- serious illnesses and losses among family and friends, strife and violence in our own country and throughout the world -- all creating a heaviness of spirit during this season of joy.
Christmas Eve is always a busy day.  I enjoyed an afternoon in the kitchen with my daughter, arranging flowers for the table and cooking our contributions to Christmas dinner.  Then, I attended early services at church with family and friends.  My favorite moment of Christmas Eve is singing "Silent Night" by candlelight at church.  Even then, though, we were all still grieving the loss of my daughter-in-law's father; his absence from the church pews on this special evening saddened our hearts deeply.
Christmas Day dawned with balmy temperatures and NO SNOW -- and somehow in the Northeast it never really feels like  Christmas without snow on the ground.  We packed the car with our gifts, flowers, and food, and drove to my son's house.  We were greeted by my little grandchildren, with eyes shining and big hugs.  How I enjoyed the opening of gifts, the warmth of having all of my children, grandchildren and my in-laws together on this special day, and the delicious prime rib dinner.  However, my son spent the day upstairs in bed with a flu-like illness, and my nephew stayed home sick; it seemed somehow quieter and less fun with them missing from the table.
That is the way it is with Christmas.  While we are celebrating the birth of Christ, and it is a holiday of peace, hope and love, we all still have expectations of what our Christmases should be -- and, while sometimes the day exceeds our expectations, there are also those times when reality is far from what we had hoped for. 
Our hearts always carry happiness and sadness simultaneously.  For every terrible event that occurs, there is always some other blessing.  We must always look for the blessings.  As we look back at our Christmas season, we should remember the good times, rather than dwell on the times that somehow diminished our celebration.  And, unfortunately, in life there is certainly going to be a Christmas that will always be remembered with pain and sorrow.  It is during those times that we need to focus on the true meaning of Christmas -- we are celebrating the birth of our Savior.  His birth alone is blessing enough!!