About six months ago, I was living in Bella Vista, recovering from surgery and getting up the courage to walk and hike again. On those hikes I liked to listen to audio books. I’m a huge nerd about that. My favorite writer is C.S. Lewis (okay, he’s probably tied with Jane Austen), and I listened to him a lot for encouragement. I was tired and sad and feeling lonely much of that time, and he always brings me encouragement, and sometimes a sobering, liberating lesson also.
Suddenly, strolling through the bright green leaves and warm sunlight as I was, Lewis’s thoughts about Christmas were streaming into my ears. Now, that past Christmas, even though I wasn’t back to my full health yet, I had worked extra hours till I was sick so I could be sure to buy gifts for everyone. I wanted to be generous and show how thankful I was for my recovery. I felt guilty, I remember, about being too tired to send Christmas cards. I can’t say I remember feeling a lot of holiday cheer, which saddened me. More saddening, I couldn’t remember having really celebrated the shocking miracle of God Himself being born into the world as a helpless child.
As I listened, C.S. Lewis tried to describe what Christmas, in the true sense, would look like to an outsider and how it would differ from the commercial version of Christmas we get so easily entangled in.
“But the few… also have a festival, separate and to themselves, called (Christmas) which is on the same day as Exmas. And those who keep (Christmas), doing the opposite to the majority…, rise early on that day with shining faces and go before sunrise to certain temples where they partake of a sacred feast. And in most temples they set out images of a fair woman with a newborn child and her knees and certain animals and shepherd adoring the Child.”
Though it was still in the hazy future, I felt excited about celebrating Christmas in a new way the next go around, without financial stress, without exhaustion, without guilt… not just trying to “squeeze in” a bible reading but rising early, face shining, to adore the Child. I started looking forward to Christmas again instead of dreading it. Little did I know, God was preparing me for the fact that we wouldn’t be able to afford presents this year. And so far from being a depressing thought, that’s become a freeing notion. I feel free to show genuine love this year, coming together with those I love to celebrate—truly celebrate.
Though I’m definitely not against presents, nor would I dream of judging those who love to give them and get them, as a preference I lean towards Lewis when he says in Letters to an American Lady, “I feel exactly as you do about the horrid commercial racket they have made out of Christmas. I send no cards and give no present except to children.” (Lewis also pointed out in the essay that presents during Christmastime were originally more like token gifts, such as fruit or candy, and not the crazily elaborate exhibition we’ve come to equally expect and dread.) But that said, if a person enjoys giving gifts, likes sending cards, loves doing elaborate décor and throwing elaborate holiday parties, if a person is the type that ends up energized instead of drained by all of this, I think that can be a genuine expression of joy. My point is that I want to examine what I try to convince myself is “fun” and what I tell myself is “generosity” and "the spirit of the season" and see if it’s really even true this year. If I end up weary, drained, and full of uncomfortable obligations, something is wrong.
This year, I am asking that people do not buy me any elaborate gifts, and that they don’t worry if they do not give me a gift or a card at all. I plan on finding genuine ways to show my love and joy this Christmas. I already have more than enough reason to be thankful.