Does a Scotch pine falling in a tree lot on the day after Christmas make a sound? My husband and I are likely among the few who can assure you that it does.
Twenty years ago, we woke early on the morning after Christmas. The weather that day in south Texas was unseasonably warm and sticky. When Jonathan came for me in his pickup truck, we were both wearing T-shirts and shorts. Our plan was to tour a few of our hometown’s deserted Christmas tree lots, searching for leftovers. Ours was no Charlie Brown rescue mission. It was simply a frugal attempt to decorate the reception space for our December 28th wedding. By mid-morning, we had collected half a dozen still-respectable trees. The only price we paid came in sweat-streaked faces, scratches on our arms and legs, and hands sticky with sap.
For two decades, our wedding anniversary has followed fast on the heels of Christmas Day.
For two decades, our wedding anniversary has followed fast on the heels of Christmas Day. In all that time, we have achieved only two or three substantial celebrations. We always aim for dinner out together, but even that is aiming too high on many years. We might have managed two celebrations in a week with some grace, but throw in a third, and we have always been overwhelmed.
Our third celebration is a birthday. Once upon a time (I will not say precisely how many years ago), my mother and father-in-law, like Mary and Joseph long before them, received their firstborn son on Christmas Day. And their gift on that day turned out to be a very good gift, indeed. From loving son to faithful husband to nurturing father, Jonathan is a gift I have received with gratitude every year of our marriage.
I’ve always wanted to give this much-loved man a real birthday party, but it never has happened. A coconut cream pie, a few gifts wrapped deliberately in non-Christmas paper, and a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday” (inevitably one of the children will say Jesus instead of Daddy) are typically all I achieve.
Every year, I hope to do a little better and a little more. I bemoan the fact that our college class schedules forced us to plan a winter-break wedding. As someone committed to, well, not over-committing myself, every December I stare at a calendar overstuffed with non-negotiable celebrations, observances, and obligations. Why can’t my December look a little more like my July? I am never over-scheduled in July!
Christmas-in-July may be a thing, but I don’t expect it will ever catch on in my household. This may be for the best. With Christmas, a birthday, and an anniversary all in the span of three days, I am learning to embrace a reality we all face to some degree during the holiday season. Christmas and New Year’s Day may be the only holidays on your calendar for this time of year, but I am sure you know the over-scheduled, over-burdened giant snowball of stress that visits so many of us during the holidays.
Our grateful celebration can never fit neatly in a one-day square on the December calendar.
This year, instead of worrying how I can do more, I have taken some time to say thanks. Special days are markers of special gifts. What is Christmas but our annual reminder to stop and remember that Christ was born to us?
That gift changes everything. We are loved, we are redeemed, and our world is not only God-made but God-inhabited. God walked with us here and still walks with us here. To fully register that reality is to know that our grateful celebration can never fit neatly in a one-day square on the December calendar. Let us save the slow life for slow January days. December is for celebrating abundantly, like six Christmas trees piled in the back of a pickup truck. It won’t be easy. We might sweat, and we might find ourselves a little scratched up and worse for wear, but feast days don’t come every day.
So what holds us back from going all in? Why not lift our running-over cups and say what our Lord longs to hear? More. Thank you, God. We want more.
Illustration by Jeff Gregory