I Made Too Much of Christmas

I woke up the day after Christmas feeling a bit disoriented. For almost three months, I’d been in holiday mode—searching for Halloween costumes, decorating, planning Thanksgiving menus and Christmas parties, scouring community calendars for can’t-miss events. So when it was suddenly a normal day, I didn’t know what to do with myself.

October to December is always my favorite time of year, but this year I felt a bit let down by it all. I struggled to enjoy the season because of all the baggage I brought into it—the general anxiety that follows me around, some major FOMO, wanting to do All The Things yet not having the bandwidth to do All The Things, and the simple fact that life doesn’t stop around the holidays. Work deadlines, toddler tantrums, dirty dishes…they don’t care what time of year it is. I created a wish dream for the holidays that rivaled all the Hallmark movies combined.

I no longer have Instagram but the Instagram mentality still haunts me. It tells me to curate the perfect holiday—that the perfect holiday should have 147 fill-in-the-blank elements to get the most out of it. After all, we only have so many holidays while our kids are young. We only have a short time to enjoy our Christmas decorations and music before it’s time to put them up for the year. We have to make this season as special as possible.

In the words of Linus Van Pelt, “Charlie Brown, you’re the only person I know who can take a wonderful season like Christmas and turn it into a problem.”

Like Charlie Brown, I didn’t feel the way I was supposed to feel this season. I enjoyed many parts of the holidays, but there were shadows of anxiety, frustration, and disappointment. The wish dream got me again and I didn’t steward the season like I should have. Like Charlie Brown, it was because I was looking in all the wrong places.

Searching for Christmas in all the Wrong Places

So often we seek fulfillment in that which is temporal. We look for the exceptional only to find that which is, at best, mediocre. Then, we are inevitably disappointed when it doesn’t meet our expectations. That’s what I did during the holidays this past year. I placed my hopes, expectations, and enjoyment in parties, parades, and presents. Because of that, when it was over, I felt I was left with very little to enjoy—just a bunch of glitter and fake Christmas tree needles to vacuum.

The truth is, we celebrate the holidays in a fallen world. I need two hands to count all of my friends who missed Thanksgiving or Christmas with their families because of illness. We ourselves missed celebrating with some family due to other health reasons. I saw posts on social media of families grieving the loss of loved ones around, or even on the holiday itself.

When we strip Christmas of its actual meaning and reduce it to the mere celebrations themselves, what choice does it have but to disappoint? No amount of Bing Crosby, Christmas cookies, or drive-through light displays can negate the fallenness of this world. There’s no immunity from hardship, no fair isle invisibility cloak shielding us from trials just because it’s Christmas.

My Christmas didn’t live up to my own hype, because I neglected to focus on the one reason we celebrate Christmas in the first place.

Advent All Year Round

At Christmas, we celebrate what God did in the past, but Christmas also points us to what God has promised to do in the future. That first Christmas, centuries ago, God fulfilled the promise He had made all the way back in Eden. The seed of the woman, the One who would crush the serpent’s head, made His appearance in a stable in Bethlehem. It was Christ’s first Advent, but it was not His only Advent.

Christmas also points to what is to come. We celebrate what God did through the birth of Christ, and we look forward to a second Advent, one in which Christ will return to complete the work of redemption once and for all. In that way, what we celebrate at Christmas doesn’t end on December 26 or January 6 or whenever you take down your decorations. The hope and anticipation of Advent carries on throughout the year.

If we can only learn to recognize them, we encounter daily reminders of the already-but-not-yet reality in which we live—reminders of the Advent we await. Just in the last two weeks, I’ve had many— an early-morning call from a family member with bad news; the excitement of my husband’s return from a ten-day trip; the sweetness of my children’s faces; the daily wrestling with sin. Joy and grief ebb and flow, coexisting until the day that grief finally disappears and only joy remains.

That’s exactly what makes Advent so sweet. Time and again, Scripture reveals the God who keeps His promises, reminding us that He will once again fulfill His promise to return and dwell with His people for eternity. Advent provides the lens through which we view all of life in between Christ’s first and second comings. We can enjoy holiday celebrations rightly, viewing them as a gift from the Lord but not the source of ultimate satisfaction. We can grieve with hope, confident that one day the Lord will wipe away every tear from every eye.

As Paul says to the Colossians:

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (3:1-4, emphasis mine)

At the end of the day, I’m thankful I was left feeling disappointed by the holidays. It was a hard but gracious reminder that my joy is not determined by my circumstances, not found in checking off that Christmas bucket list I saw on Pinterest. That disappointment prompted me to turn my eyes back to the true source of satisfaction and fulfillment— the redemptive work of Christ and the hope of His return.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash