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My ten year old son loves Christmas. He talks about it all year ‘round, and is happy to play Christmas tunes as early as August. He looks forward each fall to the days that will bring cold, snow, and all the sparkle and glitter of Christmas. He makes his Christmas Wish List so early I get it confused with his Birthday Wish List. He enjoys Christmas movies any time of year, and despite having a wall calendar, an Advent calendar, and a traditional Advent wreath, I overhear him asking, at least twice a day, “Alexa, how many days until Christmas?”
Off and on I have worried that my son’s fascination with Christmas is unhealthy, fearing that he only loves Christmas because of the presents. He is a dear, sweet boy who gets giddy about wrapping presents and is also known to leave tiny treasures on my desktop that he knows I’ll appreciate. This child also regularly designs stunning Wish Lists that could win awards for both length and creativity. He puts lots of energy into perusing the numerous Christmas catalogs that fill our mailbox each year, making him very thorough, and he makes use of Amazon to add tech-savvy links to his list. I worry whether, perhaps, he has been eaten alive by the Consumeristic Monster sometimes called Christmas and his merry, materialistic elves.
I have definitely pondered the possibility that my son is too overly fond of the gift-giving aspect of Christmas, but I have decided I am being unfair to my delightful boy. He is a child, and quite tender in his affection for Christmas and presents. He is not demanding, nor is he mean, not selfish, not rude. He just likes to dream of the gifts and the pleasure he could have in playing with them. . .because, even at ten, his three page list is filled mostly with toys. When it comes to loving Christmas, including the gifts, I think we actually have something to learn from this little one. (And, isn’t that very often true?)
There are three things I’m pocketing when it comes to my son and his love for Christmas. The first is the great goodness of anticipation. At Christmastime children really do this best. Even many adults will fondly remember pouring over the pages of the Sears Christmas catalog in the weeks leading up to Christmas, while some went to sit on Santa’s lap at the mall to make their special request and then smile for the camera. Others drafted letters that were mailed all the way to the North Pole. Oh, if we could fill a balloon with all that excitement built up throughout childhood, I think we’d float away!
Maybe we should call this all a bunch of baloney and harbor some anger toward society for the creation of this consumeristic rot. OR, perhaps we can scroll back into our heart’s memory bank to remember the spacious cavern of hope that opened within us when we thought about the possibility of a gift that we might receive at Christmas, if we just asked. The nature of this kind of anticipation is pure and lovely. I think it can help us, children and adults alike, get a feel for the meaning of Advent. The longing we feel as we wait for a good gift that we have asked for, waited for, is the same longing held captive in the season of Advent as we await the birth of Jesus.
The second thing that my son has taught me to remember about loving Christmas, and presents too, is joy. When the gift is given, received, torn open, admired, and played with- or utilized the way that you hoped- the is joy abounding. This is why people gasp, or squeal, and even cry when they open a gift they’ve wanted and waited for.
Today was the last day of school at Holland Middle School and I happened to be substitute teaching. At the end of class, a student came up and gave me a jar of homemade strawberry freezer jam that she had made herself, just last night. I didn’t even know that I wanted that gift, but when I received it, my heart burst with gladness. I felt special and loved, so very grateful for the gift. A gift well-given prompts us toward joy. And, the culmination of the anticipation of waiting for a good gift is joy.
There is one last thing that I’ve recently observed about my son’s fondness for gifts. This year he wanted to give his fifth grade teacher a gift. He wanted to give her something that she would really, really like. After some thought he was certain that Diet Dr. Pepper would be the best choice. We bought a 12 pack of cans and then he spent a great deal of time expertly wrapping the present and designing a card. In the morning, he cradled the package in his arms, bursting with pride as he marched up to his teacher with the gift. He was thrilled to present the gift and bask in his teacher’s joy. What does this teach us about how God feels about giving us the gift of baby Jesus? What must it be like to wait as we long for it, discover, open, and enjoy this gift?
I do not deny that the Christmas season can be too much, for all the wrong reasons. I’ve seen it, and I’ve experienced it. I’m certain that you have too. Let’s break those unfortunate habits, ok? If we give gifts this season, let us be truly glad about it. And, if we find ourselves eagerly awaiting gifts under the tree on Christmas Day, hoping and dreaming of the things inside those parcels, let us store up that sensation of breathless anticipation and make that our posture as we await the Messiah.