by Karen Stiller
Around this time of year, I start to say and think things like, “I need to take care of myself.” I don’t usually think like that. But as December cranks itself up, I am aware of myself as a little more fragile, or tired, or cranky, or worn-out, or grumpier than I usually am.
I hate that.
What I want to be is festive and bright and fun and laughing and carolling and looking great while doing it. I want my house to be perfect and pleasing and I want my homemade wreath to turn out. (Why do Christmas balls bounce off the wreath into my house every time I open the door? Why does nothing turn out quite right?)
With each year I try to peel away what is not necessary or required for Christmas, thinking that must be part of the solution. We buy fewer gifts. I bake less. There are fewer festive statuettes hither and yon around my house.
I pour a bag of cranberries into a clear vase and place in some white flowers and that is a beautiful thing. A simple, inexpensive, clever thing I saw in a magazine that was not oppressive and demanding as so many simple ideas this time of year are.
But still…”We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done…”
For years we hosted an open house for Advent in our home, and invited our whole church. People came. I baked Brie. It was fun.
A few years ago when we moved out of the rectory, we decided to instead have a neighbourhood open house and invite the people who live in about a 10 house radius in either direction on our busy street. This is our new tradition. It is right and good. This year we even sang carols together. As one of our neighbours left he said, “Let’s make sure we do carols again next year.”
For us, blindly welcoming our neighbours, most of whom we do not know, into our home and whipping up two varieties of cheese balls is doing what we ought to have done.
That makes Christmas better.
Last year our church started a Christmas day dinner for the community. We go to church at 11am (that part isn’t new) but then we go downstairs and have Christmas dinner together. We had 80 or so come last year, including a gaggle of senior women for whom this was clearly a fun outing, a family new to town, and what seemed like a fair amount of elderly men who were alone. At least two said they were not welcome with their families.
And crack went our hearts.
Eating Christmas dinner together in a church hall with a bunch of people we know and a bunch of people we don’t know was doing what we ought to have done.
And yes, yes, it’s true that it also meant I didn’t have to cook a turkey and stare at its carcass knowing I should be making soup and just not having it in me.
But what made us really want to sing “Yea, Lord we greet thee, Born this happy morning…” was being in community, Christ’s rag-tag motley community, on the day we celebrate his birth. We opened our gifts around 4:00pm.
That makes Christmas better.
I don’t know what oppresses you and what frees you this time of year. Maybe your homemade wreaths turn out beautifully.
There is no formula. But for our family, focussing intentionally on doing more of what we feel we ought to do, and doing less of what we ought not to do — as per the 1928 Anglican Book of Common Prayer of course — has been more than wonderful.
Karen Stiller is a senior editor of Faith Today. Remember, if you are gripped with Christmas gift-giving panic, you can buy three subscriptions to Faith Today for the price of one.