By Eugene C. Scott
Any Christmas movie worth its weight in cliches tells the story of how someone–or something–has stolen the true meaning of Christmas. Cliches become cliches, however, because they carry a flake or two of truth. Ironically popular Christmas movies strike the chord of yearning in us for this season to be about something deeper than–well–watching movies about elves, bratty kids, or a White Christmas.
We ourselves are the culprits and we hold much of the meaning of Christmas in our own hearts and hands.
If that’s so, what can you and I do to hold on to or regain the meaning of Christmas?
Don’t hold on. By definition all of our most meaningful Christmases are in the past.
One of my most memorable Christmases was in 1982. A massive snowstorm smothered Denver on Christmas Eve. It shut us down for days. My family could not make it over for our traditional turkey feast. We were forced to share with our neighbors who had no feast because they had planned to go out.
It was magical, like a movie: Christmas music, laughter, lights, the aroma of fantastic food, new friends, babies playing on the floor, 2-3 inches of snow per hour outside. Our families are no longer neighbors but we are still fast friends.
I savor that moment, but if I keep looking back to that event as capturing the true meaning of Christmas, and try to reign it, I will miss Christmas present and never anticipate Christmas future. Worse yet, if I buy some romantic Hollywood notion of what Christmas is supposed to be, reality will always disappoint.
Someone recently asked a group I was part of, “Are you more comfortable doing or being?” Most of us are doers. Christmas especially reflects doing. We shop, wrap, cook, and decorate. It’s because we equate being busy–doing–with being important. At least I do.
When someone asks, “How are the holidays, Eugene?” I usually answer, “Busy.” Then I list all I am doing and all the people I’m meeting in the hope that the person asking will think, “Wow. Eugene is really an important person.”
The problem here is obvious. If activity defines us, who gets to decide which ones are worthy of respect? And where does this leave children, who seem to understand Christmas better than anyone? Yet kids never really do anything important. And how does hanging Christmas lights and wrapping presents make me important?
Our busyness is similar to over-kneading a stubborn piece of dough. Sometimes we work the meaning right out of the holiday. Don’t simply fill your days with busyness. Do decide what truly has meaning and participate in them.
Most rules have exceptions. The two above are–well–no exception. Traditions aren’t as often made as they make us. These things from the past make us who we are. A favorite carol sung, going to Christmas Eve services, the ornaments the kids made hung, drinking a glass of wine–late before Santa comes–are all pieces of Christmases past that add meaning to today. Wrap the present in them like a cherished gift and open them to see what they hold for today.
And the time and effort we do put into the work of Christmas is not all empty. It too lends layers of meaning. Every Christmas Dee Dee makes delicious chocolate and peanut butter ball cookies. They take hours to make and mere minutes to devour. Their flavor comes as much from all the work she puts in to them as the other ingredients. Doing is not all bad.
Present. This year our church family agreed to focus more on being present than on giving presents. After all, Christmas reminds us that God could have wrapped up everything we ever wanted and placed it under a tree. Instead, God took His Presence, Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us and hung on a tree. God chose to Be with us.
Our family has taken our churches’ challenge on. It’s funny too. We’re still shopping, hanging lights, and doing all kinds of Christmas traditions. Though we have agreed to do and buy less. But we are also talking to each other more, eating together, planning what we want to do together. And instead of Christmas feeling like an unstoppable blur like a train rushing by, it is becoming a memorable walk toward a day focused on being together.
Our entire family has not been together for Christmas since 2009. And in some ways this is a gathering that has never been and never will be again because we’ve added a new baby and a toddler to that mix. And who, but God, knows what the future holds anyway?
How can you too save Christmas? Don’t do but be.
Eugene C. Scott started a new Christmas movie tradition with his family this year by watching a classic John Wayne movie 3 Godfathers. It’s hilarious. And if you are nearby, join us for Christmas Eve at 5:30pm at The Neighborhood Church, or check us out on Facebook.