Everything was as it always was, except that it wasn’t. I was surrounded by family and friends, sharing all sorts of rich delicacies you can only find this time of year (my aunt’s iced sugar cookies sweet from smell to bite, depicting all of our alma maters, as well as holiday tidings). Each moment engaged another beloved family member in conversation, and we gallivanted on with our stories of the fall and our hopes for the new year.
This was how things began most usually, but this year there were more of us than usual. We were all moving into the living room, the same room we had done our gift-giving for the past 15 years. Except this year, we weren’t giving gifts. With the economy down and a recognition that there wasn’t anything we needed, we focused on each other rather than all the gifts we normally received. And it was weird.
I had grown up looking forward to the gifts. Christmas for me with my family was gathering up together with holiday songs on the radio, and wondering whether I was going all that I wanted or not. As I got older, the scenario was switched a bit, I worried if what I had gotten for someone else was what they had desired, or if they were going to give me the “thank you” that just didn’t seem quite real enough.
As I sat in the living room, packed in with 25 of the people I love, I realized why it felt different. While I was thrilled that we were doing Christmas differently, and sharing time and our stories together all day, my whole Christmas evening had tended toward gifts for so long. It felt unnatural for me not to be receiving them. I felt like something was incomplete, even as I could have told you I didn’t need a thing.
The funny thing was, we were laughing. My uncle was telling his typical stories. We played games that insured everyone had a laugh at someone’s expense, and we all kept our egos in check. We had more good food in a day than I cook in two months on my own. And we were celebrating the chance to be together, to share in the joy of the love of family.
At the first Christmas, there was not a place in town available to stay. Imagine a hotel in a small town that can’t find a place for someone – that sounds unbelievable! And yet, that was the scene. No lavish gifts (the wise men came later), just a husband, a wife, and their new baby. Simple and intimate. Surprising, yet exactly what God had planned.
As I thought after, perhaps surprising was good. We had gotten rid of what was expected, to make space for each other, for something better. This Christmas, we lived with less, and I think I’m loving it a lot more.