“Christmas just doesn’t work for me,” said Billy from his seat in the last car of The Polar Express.
The boy and the girl again invited him to get off the train and meet Santa at the North Pole.
Billy shook his head. “Christmas just doesn’t work for me.”
Billy lived on the poor side of town, with only disappointment to look forward to. Christmas was yet another opportunity to not receive what he wanted.
Those of us who grew up poor can relate. We asked Santa for Barbie dolls or Nintendo games like all our friends. But we had to pretend to be pleased with the cheap knock-offs we got instead. And endure the teasing from our playmates who found the real toys under their trees.
Even adults can get caught up in the anticipation of gifts they’ll receive. One pastor preached that we should give Jesus the same as we give others. No matter what we spent on gifts, we should put that same amount in the offering plate. When one lady showed up in a new fur coat, the pastor practically salivated at the possibility of receiving thousands of dollars for the church coffers. Unfortunately, the lady’s husband didn’t feel the same and the pastor was disappointed.
If we focus on Christmas as just a time to receive gifts, we can’t help but be dissatisfied. When we don’t get what we want, we’re unhappy with the things we open. And, surprisingly, when we unwrap the present we thought we wanted, the thrill often isn’t what we anticipated.
But Christmas is so much more than gifts.
First of all, it’s a time to thank Christ for demeaning himself to come to our planet. It’s kind of like us agreeing to become an ant to move into an ant farm and save the residents there. I can’t imagine loving an ant, yet alone shrinking down to their size to save their lives.
Second, it’s a time for others. Jesus took time to spend with us so we could live with him forever. And we can follow his example by spending time with family and friends, expecting nothing in return.
After my husband’s death, I continued the tradition of hosting all our kids and grandkids on Christmas Eve. After a few years, that became too taxing for me so I stopped the tradition and spent a lot of time by myself.
Several friends have invited me to their homes over the years so I wouldn’t be alone for the holiday. I tried, even accepted a few, but I didn’t feel like I belonged. So I developed my own tradition: spending Christmas Day in my pajamas, cooking one of the 2-for-$12 lobster tails from the grocery store, and treating myself to a nice dinner.
But even that didn’t hide the loneliness.
This summer, I moved to be closer to my son and his family, which includes my two youngest granddaughters. Being a short drive away made it easy for me to hop over there on several occasions to decorate cookies, exchange presents, and babysit so Mommy and Daddy could go to a movie.
My former neighbors invited me to their home for Christmas Eve. It was great fun, especially since these were now friends, not just folks I happened to live near.
And you know what? This has been the best Christmas in years. I spent less on gifts and more time giving myself to friends and family.
Let’s plan now for next year. Instead of making a list of things we want Santa to bring, write down the names of everyone important and think of ways to spend time with them. Start now and add to the list over the next 12 months. Then devise ways to enjoy them. And not just at Christmas.
After all, Christ gave his life for us. The least we can do is give a few hours of our lives for others.