Two-thirds of the lights on our Christmas tree don’t light up. It’s also leaning a bit to the right. My Christmas dishes are still in a box in the garage. The girls keep asking when Daddy is going to put the lights up on our house (Ummm . . . ). The two-year-old’s stocking is anonymously hanging from the mantle next to his older sisters’ monogrammed ones. I’m not sending out Christmas cards. I don’t do Elf on the Shelf. My kids don’t know “Away in a Manger.”
Even as I type that last one, I cringe. I mean, what have I been doing all day if not singing religious carols?
The biggest part of me knows Christmas is not made up of these things.
But there’s a little sliver of me feeling a prick of guilt, like I haven’t painted the perfect setting for my children to experience the wonder and whimsy of Christmas.
I worry, Is my children’s Christmas experience being hindered by me? So, I think back to my childhood Christmases and try to put my finger on what it was exactly that made it all so magical.
I see the Christmas tree nestled into the corner with colorful lights and presents spilling from beneath into the middle of my grandparents’ living room. I see my mom, Nana, and aunts sitting on the couch holding hands, catching up on all the scuttlebutt about town while the men display just how many brain cells have been dedicated to sports teams. I see Poppi stooping down to sweep up the dirt piles we’d tracked in while unloading our suitcases.
I hear laughter, rambunctious screams, and the hum of the dust buster (he couldn’t quite get all of the specks with the broom alone). The smell of sugar cookies wafts through the room as I pop open the Tupperware lid and sneak a couple just before stuffing a handful of green and red M&M’s into my mouth from the crystal dish by the door. I hear Super Mario disappear into a green pipe (dudda-dudda-dudda) and head outside to enjoy a walk to 7-11 for some Slurpees with my cousins in the 70-degree December weather.
I can still feel the excitement of being together, of arrival, of anticipation quenched, the feeling of love so thick and sticky it’s unavoidable. Hugs and kisses are given out like candy and received like healing balms. Nobody can escape them but, then again, nobody wants to.
I remember it all so vividly.
Yet, some things I don’t.
I don’t remember anything being especially decorated. I don’t remember Pottery Barn centerpieces or adorable buntings hung from the mantle or expensive holiday pillows or monogrammed stockings. I don’t remember time-consuming DIY projects or a Pinterest-worthy tree.
That all might have been there. But if it was, I don’t remember.
My grandparents’ house was not particularly beautiful. Its brick facade was plain and modest. Its rooms were filled with mismatched furniture; the narrow kitchen could have used a remodel (even though it had actually been remodeled) and the white square tile floor wouldn’t be found within any designer’s portfolio.
But if asked the most beautiful place in the world as a child, that little house in Smithville, Texas would have been the uncontested winner. In my innocence, beauty was still dictated by joy, by love, by goodness. I had not yet been jaded by airbrushed, staged, or filtered photos. The epitome of beauty to that nine-year-old girl was an 1,800 square foot ranch-style home with tan carpet and popcorn ceilings.
‘Tis the beauty of the Christmas story.
That night, with the cows and the straw and the literal crap, the scene didn’t look much like an Anthropologie catalog. You see, God didn’t even wrap the gift. He didn’t adorn it with a big tulle bow. God did not bother himself with trappings, tinsel, glitter.
The beauty of that moment was not to be found in the package, but in the contents.
God stooped down from the Heavens to place His infant son in a drafty stable as if to demand we recognize the beauty of humility. He picked this, this beginning. He chose to introduce a Savior to the world in this precise way because He knew our idols would someday reek of perfectionism and opulence, of measuring up and looking the part, of vanity.
The story is beautiful because He came. Not because He came in splendor. Not because He came in glory. Not because He came in luxury. But because He came at all.
This Christmas, I pray that I won’t feel the need to wrap up and dress up and put up and pin up. That it will be less about creating the most beautiful home for everyone else to envy and more about creating the most holy space for my family to sit at the tiny feet of a tiny Savior. That I will be a gatherer of imperfect people, not perfect pictures.
So maybe my house will look cute. Or maybe I will decide that I don’t have the energy. Either way, Jesus will be there. Because, Praise the Lord, He already came.
Originally published on the author’s blog.