When Christmas isn’t what you pictured

Our Christmas looks different than planned. Thanks to a string of seemingly never-ending illnesses and now unusually cold temperatures, our holiday plans are looking a little quieter than we thought they would. At first, I felt frustrated by this. It’s my favorite time of year, and I love gathering with friends and family, going out to eat, walking around to look at lights, shopping in crowded stores. This year, I had been putting extra pressure on myself to make Christmas perfect, especially for Jessen’s first one (as if he’ll remember).

But then I was reminded (via the Grinch cartoon nonetheless) that I was quickly slipping back into a performative Christmas rather than a present one. I’m sure you’ve seen the movie, but the Grinch steals all of the gifts and things from Whoville, thinking it will stop the Whos from celebrating Christmas. But then (spoiler alert), Christmas still came, the Whos still rejoiced and the Grinch realized that it is not the gifts that define Christmas but the people. It’s a common trope in Christmas stories – the Christmas spirit is not about materialism. 

I always loved this cartoon, but it never fully resonated with me. Because while I don’t mind giving and getting gifts, they have never been the focal point of Christmas for me. Rather, it’s the community aspect, the family time, the games, the food, the movies, the laughter that define Christmas for me. But sitting there watching the Grinch the other night, I realized I was frustrated because I felt like sickness had caused those intangible gifts to be taken away from me. Turns out it’s not just materialistic things that can detract from the point of Christmas – it’s the expectations we set and the unnecessary pressure we put on ourselves to curate a perfect Christmas.

While it’s normal to feel frustrated by changing plans and inconvenient illnesses, the joy of Christmas is not dependent upon circumstances anymore than it is dependent upon gifts. So maybe I need to find my inner Who and be willing to still rejoice and sing and celebrate… because even if it’s not the Christmas I pictured, it’s the one I have. The parts that matter most about Christmas are the ones that cannot be taken away. 

Ann Voskamp in The Greatest Gift says that “expectations can steal gifts.” Expectations surrounding Christmas can ultimately steal the gift of Christmas if we’re not careful. I was letting the expectations of a picture-perfect, magical, fun-filled Christmas take away from the gift of a simple, sacred, quiet one with the two people in the world dearest to me. 

So, that’s my reminder and my prayer this Christmas: to not let expectations steal gifts, the greatest gifts being the love of our Father who sent his son and the love we can share with others because of that. Christmas is about the people dear to us because of a Person who came near to us 2,000 years ago.

In other words,

“Christmas Day is in our grasp

So long as we have hands to clasp.

Christmas Day will always be

Just as long as we have we.”

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