Over the summer, my family traveled to Colorado to visit friends. We have a family tradition of bringing home a Christmas ornament as a souvenir from our travel destinations. We often pick the ornaments out as a family, but on this trip, the shopping was left up to the girls.
I shopped with my dear friend; our history going back to high school. We’re cut from the same cloth, and can hang out endlessly.
I searched the touristy shops for an ornament that would accurately reflect our 2017 Colorado adventure.
“So, Emily,” she said, “what will you do when you get too many ornaments?”
The words jolted me into a state of shock.
“TOO many Christmas ornaments? Who even are you and why am I with you?” I screeched (silently, inside my head.) Could she be serious? Was she a Grinch? What kind of person thinks there’s such a thing as too much Christmas? I shot her a glare.
“Uh, buy another tree?” she asked.
I shrugged. “I’ll make it work,” I said.
This brief discussion has replayed for me as I’ve put up my multiple Christmas trees this year. It crossed my mind when I heard someone complaining about the “war on Christmas” and X-Mas removing Christ from Christmas. (Ironic, since X means “Christ” in Greek, but anyhoo…) I thought of it when someone sang praises of the four gift rule, where kids only get one gift they want, one they need, one to wear, and one to read. When someone complained about houses with both white and multi-color lights. When people declare they don’t “do Santa” for whatever religious or ethical reason they cite.
People sure have a lot of rules and expectations about how others should celebrate, do they not? We’ve over-commercialized. Some gifts fall flat for being “too cheap,” but other gifts are over the top. Some don’t even mention Jesus, some are too Jesus-y. Some work themselves silly and decorate beyond reason, while others don’t even fluff the branches on their trees. Some overspend, and some people drink coffee out of plain, red cups. And some people are too inclusive, wishing “happy holidays,” covering too many other cultures and religions. There’s no war on Christmas, there’s only war among ourselves.
This morning, I saw a post on my Facebook wall from a man named Frank, for whom autism is a crippling disability. He’s very open about his struggles, a self-proclaimed atheist, and generally sounds fairly despondent. That is, until Christmas. At Christmas, Frank cooks feasts for friends and family, and tirelessly searches the planet for perfect gifts to speak to each acquaintance’s soul. He wraps the gifts, and delights in giving the objects so perfectly matched to their recipients.
He wrote “I’m very nonjudgmental about the way people celebrate Christmas. If you like Christmas at all, I count that as a win. There’s a lot of people I’ve met who hate it because of bad experiences and all I can do is provide a healthy and positive approach to the holiday to hopefully slowly change minds. — Frank”
His statement struck me as one of the truest representations of Christmas that I’ve seen. After all, look at the very first Christmas in Bethlehem.
An unwed mother, fancy foreigners who probably spent a load of dough on their gifts, dirt poor shepherds...it was a pretty mixed bag. Each did what they thought was the right thing to do. They brought gifts, or they didn’t. They opened their barn to those with nowhere to stay. Even not knowing exactly what was happening, their celebration contained many elements — much like ours today.
The holiday season is precious, because it’s a season of treasure. The peace of God, the gift of Christ, the dedication of the temple and miracle of lights, the joy of giving, magic for our children, the beauty of friendships, the comfort of family, the remembrance of culture and tradition, the perpetuation of hope — all celebrated in so many ways.
Whatever your treasure, may you celebrate it fully and with joy this year.
Emily Parnell lives in Overland Park, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org