I married the Tom Brady of festive. Benjamin has been known to casually wear elf hats while making serious conversation. He can quote The Grinch without blinking and throws around Christmas adages in a deadpan monotone that testifies to the seriousness with which he approaches all merry-making. I’m fairly certain that a statistically significant percentage of his blood is made up of eggnog.
I, too, came into our marriage with a Christmas heritage that would make these people look subdued. Christmas meant jumping josie with my grandpa, a made up term for two-stepping to “My Mom and Santa Claus” while I stood on his shoes. Christmas meant stuffing chicken dressing into my cheeks until they ached with happiness. It meant unexpected gifts, like the time my parents gave me a pinata for no discernible reason. Oh, and may we not forget the church play. It was no mere nativity, but rather a three hour production of The Gospel According to Scrooge, replete with authentic Victorian costumes, fireworks, and a Marley whose memory haunts me to this day. This production is still performed annually, and I’ve heard that they recently added a Rapture scene in which the saved pop out of their graves to rush Jesus, who is waiting in the balcony, naturally. Needless to say, a few liberties were taken with the original Dickens story. I was a schoolgirl, a camel, a beggar, and a dancer in this play, and I still remember it happily when I smell paint fumes and melted glitter, because that is the exact smell of Christmas.
Other people may plunk out a couple of Christmas songs on the piano and exchange socks every December. But not us. When it comes to Yuletide mirth, Ben and I are unstoppable.
We are passing on these bold and unapologetic traditions to our daughter, who is embracing them in innovative brilliance. We sang “Away in a Manger” last night, and that girl clapped to her own beat. We’ll be adjusting the tune to accommodate her swinging hands. We plan to wrap her in Christmas lights and photograph her before the season is over. On Christmas morning, we will shove gifts in front of her, objects of wonder that she had not even known existed before she came down the stairs. I will eat my socks if she doesn’t get a cavity from all of the candy canes we will force on her.
Our house is full of candles and bright lights, which is why we will also have to do as our parents did, and take our child to Christmas. Because real Christmas can’t happen here, not in this house that is well lit and warm, this house full of people who read books and laugh over dinner and love each other. Those who live here know King Jesus well, and stumble toward honoring Him. In our house, the Savior has been born for quite some time. We will celebrate his birth, but we will also be sure to go somewhere we can witness it.
Christmas doesn’t happen inside cozy inns or palatial suburban homes. It begins in obscurity, in nighttime, in the dark. Sometimes it means taking snacks to hospital waiting rooms. Sometimes it means rocking your child to sleep for the eleventh time that night. Sometimes it means buying shoes for kids whose parents are imprisoned. Sometimes it means smiling when you don’t feel like it and forgiving people who aren’t sorry. Sometimes it means arranging poinsettias on tombstones, staring death in the face and, without blinking, cursing the shadows with joy, with hope. Sometimes it means pushing back against evil by putting your hands down.
Christmas is for young people who are terrified. It is for couples facing vicious rumors and unplanned pregnancies. It is for mothers whose babies were ripped from their arms by a ruthless, heartless despot, for sisters with no baby brothers, for fathers who will grieve their sons forever. It is for the uncertain, for the poor, for the weak. It is for the elderly who have spent their entire lives on a promise yet to be fulfilled. It is for people who work outside. It is for those who live in wealth and abundance, a call to leave their homes and travel toward the brightest light. It is for a family in fear, a country in captivity, a world in mourning. It is for a people in waiting, in longing, in hope against hope for a Savior.
When Jesus was born, most of the world missed it. Thousands and thousands of people went on as usual. Christmas, the real Christmas, the Messiah, Emmanuel, shows up in the dark. Go to Christmas. Quickly and quietly travel to unfamiliar places. Find people who are hostile to strangers, who ignore those in need. Surround yourself with dirt and angels. Find that cold stable, full of animals, and bring light. Bear Jesus to that place, as Mary did. Redeem it, however you can.