The headlining theme of last year’s December 2018 edition of Southern Living magazine was one of the “Simple Joys” of Christmas. I always chuckle a hearty HO-HO-HO at such teasing titles. While offering readers the hope of a simple Christmas, the magazine proceeded to unload a Santa sleigh-full of ideas on decorating, wreaths, cooking, and gifts.
So much for simple.
Now in 2019, Southern Living’s 200 plus pages December DOUBLE ISSUE includes an article titled “The Simple Life,” right after one titled “Time to Twinkle.”
Well, at least they are trying to encourage readers to once again take a low key approach to the season.
My apologies to Southern Living magazine. I do not mean to discredit their wonderful magazine. It is one of my favorites. I never fail to read each issue with particular attention to the articles by the Grumpy Gardener and Rick Skaggs, along with recipe and vacation ideas. But their suggestion that Christmas in America can be simple is a dream many of us seek, but few of us experience.
Let’s face it, Christmas can be the most stressful time of the year. The decorating, the shopping, and the entertaining certainly promote a season of goodwill and cheer. But it can also transform the most festive time of year into a holiday of stress, tension and can’t-wait-til-it’s-over headaches. And it shouldn’t.
My Christmas memories as a child, and now as a father and grandfather, are mostly sweet. But I too can recall many a Yuletide tainted by the distractions of commercialism. Maybe that’s why I tend to repeat myself in various blogposts that this Holiest of Holidays should be focused on the Gift in the manger and less on the gifts under a twinkling tree. After all, the Good News came in the form of a newborn babe in a manger. No bright bows, no wrapping paper, just a chorus of angels singing under a bright star on a midnight clear.
Now, more than ever, we need a Savior. More peace, less stress.
That being said, I recall a story from my youth when my parents experienced their most stressful Christmas. On Christmas Day, 1962, I was eleven years old. My brother was six. That morning, with gift-giving completed, mom pulled me aside to whisper a startling declaration. We almost woke up to a Christmas morning void of any gifts.
It seemed that mom and dad had purchased our Christmas gifts that year on the layaway plan at Sears Roebuck. Before there were malls, Atlanta had a smattering of large department stores. Almost all of them had four to six floors of merchandise. Rich’s and Davison’s were located on Peachtree Street in downtown Atlanta. The Sears store was located on Ponce de Leon Avenue across from Ponce de Leon Park, home of the minor league baseball team, the Atlanta Crackers. Unfortunately, by the time Dad showed up on Christmas Eve at Sears to pick up our gifts, the store had closed. I can only imagine the panic that ensued.
When dad arrived home with an empty car, he and mom frantically considered their options. Fortunately, a family friend and neighbor worked for Sears. His job allowed him to have a key to the store. So, near midnight on Christmas Eve, Dad and our (Santa from Sears) neighbor drove to the Ponce de Leon Avenue location, gained access to the store, and somehow found our layaway gifts.
My brother and I awoke Christmas morning to a living room full of Santa’s gifts, utterly unaware of the drama from the previous night, and oblivious to the relieved, but weary countenance on the faces of our parents.
In hindsight, my mom’s candid revelation of a near gift-less Christmas morning was my first clue that Christmas can be as stressful as it is festive. This may seem to some folks an inappropriate focus on gifts, and I wouldn’t argue that the Christmas of my youth was more secular than Christian. Ironically, I have long forgotten any of the gifts that Santa left that Christmas morning of 1962, but I have never forgotten the extraordinary effort of a loving father and the gift of friendship and sacrifice of our neighbor.
Is it possible to have a simple Christmas and avoid some of the stresses of the season?
I’d like to think so. I am not so naive to suggest that Christmas can be totally void of stress. I’ll never forget how getting five kids ready to attend Christmas Eve services seemed more like a circus than preparation to attend worship at one of the holiest times of the year.
Nevertheless, here are a few thoughts about how to savor the season rather than just yearn for a quiet, less hectic January.
- Find a moment to count your blessings as you sit before your lighted tree or gather around your advent candles.
- Speak to your family about what they want to GIVE this season to friends, especially friends in need, or a local charity.
- Steer conversations with family to reminisce about Christmas memories. Tell family stories, the kind that need to be passed on to future generations.
- Enjoy the familiar family traditions, but do not be afraid to start new traditions.
- Practice acts of kindness. Be especially understanding with waiters and servers. Be a generous tipper. Be patient with store clerks too!
- Be a secret Santa, bless others anonymously.
- Bake cookies or some other sweet treat as a gift to neighbors.
- Seek ways to serve in your community. Soup kitchen? Help an elderly neighbor decorate?
- Focus on hospitality rather than entertaining when having guests over.
- If a neighbor/friend is in a panic about Santa arriving at their house, do what you can to help. Some kid will remember you forever.
And do not forget to participate in as many celebrations as possible of the birth of the Christ Child. After all, that’s what it is all about. And when the decorations are put away until the next season of hurry and scurry, take some time to ponder the joys of the season, be thankful for time spent together as a family, for in the blink of a snowflake, the kids will all be grown, and the home will grow quiet.
Then, I pray, the joys of Christmases-past will warm your heart and encourage you to savor the simple joys of Christmas-present, and those yet to come.