The Holiday race is about to begin. Thanksgiving will be the warm up. We must lay in food, like people preparing for a famine. We will haul out cookbooks to prepare what we only cook once or twice a year. There will be kitchen disasters: cakes will fall, roasts will burn, and casseroles will not turn out like the pictures in Southern Living. Our uncles, who will have a few too many beers, will attempt to fry a turkey, forgetting it first must be thawed. We will all overeat, fall asleep in front of football games, and then rise in stupors to demolish left-overs, since we “only get to eat this once a year.”
Lists musts be made. We will wake up early for Black Friday, and then click like mad on Cyber Monday. The UPS man will break his back toting boxes to our door. We will agonize over what to buy people who already have everything they need and most of what they want. Our children will request the one toy that everyone is out of, except some obscure online retailer who doesn’t accept PayPal.
We will haul down the decorations from the attic and discover that we have fifteen strands of lights, of which only three work. Our favorite ornament, the one our daughter made when she was in kindergarten, has been smashed into tiny slivers. The tree which looked perfect at the tree lot now has a hole in the side. A hurricane of tree needles appears every time we look at the tree. We compare our sorry outdoor wreathes to the neighbors, who apparent have a connection with Martha Stewart, for theirs are perfect.
Travel plans must be finalized. We have to figure out to get to the family reunion five hundred miles away and back in time for the three dozen Christmas plays, parties, and pageants involving our kids. Parents ladle on the guilt if we are unable to deliver their grandchildren to them for their viewing pleasure. Christmas itself can be a nightmare. We have to go to MeeMaw’s, Granny’s, Nanna’s, Meme’s, and Baba’s house. We are expected to eat at each one, have the children open presents at each one, and give a present to the woman who says, “Oh, you shouldn’t have” while silently comparing our gift to those from her other grandchildren.
We must go to the parties. People keep score. We have to go the Sunday School party, the School party, the Office party, the neighborhood party, the best customer’s party, the friends that drink wine party, the friends that don’t drink wine party, and the party given by the “cool” people (who invited you by mistake).
Because it’s the holidays, we feel like must go to see the lights at the park, at the zoo, at the guy’s house who numbers his lights in the millions, and the lights in the small town that turns itself into a tourist attraction every Christmas, putting a strain on the local nuclear power plant. We must go to see “The Nutcracker,” and every “Singing Christmas Tree” in town. Our friends from other churches tell us we can’t miss their living nativity scene; they’ll come to our musical if we go to their outdoor representation of Bethlehem.
There are TV shows we can’t miss. We must see “The Christmas Story” for the twentieth time, to see if Ralphie will put out his eye this time. We must watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas” again to see if Snoopy still wins first prize. We must make sure that no Hallmark channel movie is missed.
Three days before Christmas, the cards start to pour in. Our college roommate apparently has made a deal with the devil, because he has all his hair, his wife looks like a million dollars, his children have all finished their second doctorate, and his grandchildren are wait listed for Harvard, even though they have just finished potty training. In a panic, we find the only picture we have of the whole family together – the one taken at the beach, where everyone looks great except yourself, because your eyes are closed and you are so sunburned you look like a lobster emerging from a boil. We try to think up our accomplishments, but saying Junior got off probation doesn’t seem like it should make the list.
Before we begin the race, maybe we need to pause. Breathe. Think. What’s this all about? Isn’t Thanksgiving about grace? Isn’t Thanksgiving about a gracious God who gives you more than you deserve? Isn’t Thanksgiving about thanking people in your life for their love?
Isn’t Christmas about God’s love? Isn’t Christmas about God wanting to give you a deeper peace, something that can’t be bought? Isn’t Christmas about joy, a deep sense of well-being?
Before the race begins, pause. Breathe. Think. Thank. Rejoice. God gives to you. God is with you. Thanks be to God.