Posted by: ritagone | December 24, 2014

The Cycle of Christmas

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I grew up in a home without Christmas.

My parents, who were secular, non-religious Jews, didn’t celebrate the birth of Christ, of course, but, in all fairness to them, they did try to give my brother and me a bit of holiday festivity by buying an annual petite Christmas tree. Somehow it didn’t help. Sparsely decorated, standing alone in the living room with no other decorations around it, made it seem a desperate effort to celebrate an event that they just didn’t believe in, and so it never felt real or welcome. In fact, it all felt rather hollow to me.

And so when I became a Christian at 24, I knew in my heart that one of the changes in my life for the better would be that Christmas and all of the wonderful accompaniments that I had missed out on would from then on be a part of my life. I remember my first married Christmas: married in early October, it wasn’t long before we were discussing how to celebrate the Lord’s birth. Michael suggested we do a minimal Christmas, since he had grown up with full-blown Christmas celebrations, complete with décor, trees, tons of presents, lots of food, the full works. He was ready for a respite from all of that. I’m sure I must have blanched when he said those words. It was unthinkable. My first married Christmas was going to be everything it had not been while I lived either in my parents’ home with their meager attempt to do something celebratory but which always wound up to be kind of sad and depressing or my own struggles to put something together as a single apartment dweller.

Needless to say, I won that “discussion.” Christmas in the Warren household was everything it had not been as a Klein.

Of course, a few years later, when the kids came along, all the more reason to deck the halls lavishly and lovingly. I think, though, that I was always more excited about the opening of presents and the time spent together on Christmas Day than the kids. I loved it, savored it, looked forward to it every year.

Oh, did I mention, though, that our daughter Dana’s birthday is December 27, so we always wound up sweeping Christmas away on the 26th to make room for her birthday celebration on the 27th? I didn’t mind, though, because to me, once the presents were out from under the tree, it looked kind of sad and forlorn anyway. Best to put it aside until next year. Which we did.

As the kids got older and were married, and as they established their own families and traditions, Michael and I realized that we could get by with less rather than more for Christmas, so he finally got his wish, delayed by only a few decades. Hence, the artificial tree in the garage, covered in plastic, fully decorated, including lights, just waiting to be carted into the living room at the appropriate time, plugged in, and put into service. Then, as always, carted away on the 26th in preparation for Dana’s birthday, which we still celebrate separately from anything Christmas.

Now we exchange presents only with the grandkids; adults get nothing. (We do, in all fairness, make a big deal of birthdays in this family, if that’s any consolation to those of you reading this who can’t imagine not having Christmas presents under the tree for you.) This was a rule made up by all the adults, so it’s actually fine with everyone. (I think.) Makes life simpler, that’s for sure. We did away with sending out Christmas cards years ago, and I sure don’t miss that holiday endeavor. So Michael and I have become somewhat minimalists again about our Christmas, and we love it.

Easy come, easy go.

We still love everything Christmas stands for and represents: the birth of our Savior, the intrusion of hope into a lost and hopeless world. We love the caroling and our big annual tradition, about 20 years old now, of attending the Messiah Sing-along with friends at the Disney Hall in downtown Los Angeles. In fact, in many ways this gathering is the highlight of the Christmas season for me. I love it and all the parts of it, from the changing guest list to traveling downtown by car and conversations on the way, to the meal we always have together before the concert, to the concert itself. If you can participate in a Messiah Sing-along where you live during the Christmas season, I heartily recommend it. It’s challenging and beautiful and worthwhile.

And I love the family gathering together in the afternoon on Christmas Day, after they have had their own private traditions met, presents opened, in their Christmas pajamas or whatever, when we have our newly established (of a few years now) tradition of a prime rib dinner complete with mashed potatoes, gravy, and various accouterments. I do the roast and mashed potatoes and my famous green beans, which I make only at Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, and everyone else brings something in the way of food to help. The grandkids don’t like prime rib, so their mother’s job is to bring something that will feed them. Not my problem. Michael sets the table for the adults and the kids’ table. We all have our assignments, and it’s a relaxing, fun meal after the excitement of unwrapping presents that have been long anticipated.

I know in the years to come these patterns will change where Christmas is concerned. That’s okay. There is a cycle to Christmas, I’ve discovered, like there is to almost everything. But the true meaning of the day stays the same, and that’s what’s important.

Meanwhile, Merry Christmas to all reading this, whatever your plans, your patterns, traditions, and whatever makes you happy. May the day bring you much joy and may you feel the presence of the Lord in everything you do. There is no greater gift than enjoying the Lord and feeling that you are in His presence, presents or not.

 

 

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