As I’ve been getting ready for Christmas in this new house, I’ve turned my thoughts to past Christmases. I have always loved Christmas and I have a lot of good ones to look back on…
The Christmas when my parents gave me a German dollhouse, complete with painted furniture and red checked “feather deckers” on the beds. The Christmases I spent rushing off from Christmas brunch to dance in the nighttime parades at Disney. Yes, it was working on Christmas, but there was something magical about it, just the same. It was Disney, after all. And the Christmas when Jeff and I farm-sat for some friends and I was running around in my jammies and wellies, feeding the goats and horses before we opened our presents.
But one of my favorite Christmases was the one that seemed, as we were getting ready for it, like it might be one of the worst.
We had just moved to Pennsylvania and we were living on a small youth pastor’s salary. I wasn’t working at the time and was 8 1/2 months pregnant with our first son. Finances were tight. We didn’t have cable TV or internet. We didn’t eat dinner out or spend money on fixing up our house. We didn’t buy new clothes or shoes or anything that we didn’t absolutely need. We were always able to pay our bills and have something to eat, but that was about it. So, as Christmas was approaching, we didn’t have extra income to put towards gifts.
I remember fretting about it, thinking that Christmas would be such a disappointment.
The anxiety was amplified by the heartburn and hormones. And every time I turned around, it seemed that there were more expenses if I wanted to “do Christmas properly”. All of the little things that I never noticed before really added up – stamps for Christmas cards, gift boxes, wrapping paper, extra groceries for Christmas dinner…
But, I was determined that Christmas would be great and we would have plenty to open under the tree.
I started saving cereal and oatmeal boxes to use as gift boxes. I dug through the depths of my Christmas bins and craft supplies for ribbons, paper, gift tags, and any leftovers from previous Christmases.
For gifts, Jeff and I made coupons for each other for foot rubs, special request homemade dinners, help on a project, a day out hitting yard sales. The funny thing is they were coupons for things we did for each other, anyway, but they were something to make and wrap. I wish I had kept some of them, because they were pretty intricate! It was like we were trying to out-coupon each other.
We also went to the grocery store and used some of our grocery money to buy gifts. We snuck around the store, trying to evade each other and keep the contents of our basket secret. I would catch Jeff peering around an end cap, whistling at me, and then retreating to another aisle. We did get some treats, like favorite cookies or chocolate, but we mostly bought each other foods we liked and needed.
We laughed a lot that Christmas morning. Jeff would unwrap something… “Oh, a box of oatmeal…”
“No, that’s just the box. The gift is inside.”
Or, “You don’t need to open that one, because it really is just a box of cereal.”
Maybe I’m just looking back on that morning through nostalgic goggles and I’ve blocked out any disappointment I may have felt as I was surrounded by my haul of handmade coupons, food, and used books.
But, I just remember how we made the best of it and how, even though it was our leanest Christmas, we laughed and found joy.
Whether you’re in a time of plenty or in one of those lean years… Whether your family gathering goes exactly as planned or it goes off the rails… Whether you’re heart is full to capacity or your heart is breaking…
…I hope you can find joy in it.