Christmas time is normally a happy time for me. The world, of course, continues working as it normally does, with events paying scant attention to the calendar. Sadly, even at Christmas time, people get ill, and people die. A friend’s dad just died over the weekend. And of course there are still the normal, smaller stresses of life: making meals, doing laundry, paying bills and the suffering of occasional indigestion or sniffles. But mostly, for my wife and I, times are okay. We got our Christmas lights up at the beginning of the month, rather than the night before Christmas. I've done my Christmas shopping already and even the food for Christmas dinner is already waiting in my freezer.
On the radio, and in the stores, Christmas carols ring. At church, the normal songs have given way to Christmas hymns. I just finished preaching a series of three sermons on Christmas. Around town, the houses are decorated in sparkling lights and the smell of pine fills many a visited home. On television, the familiar Christmas movies are rerun, while the weekly series perform mostly insipid Christmas themed stories, usually a takeoff on Dickens's A Christmas Carol, O'Henry's Gift of the Magi—or maybe something where Santa Claus turns out to be real after all.
Meanwhile newscasters do obligatory stories either bemoaning that not enough people are out spending money and buying gifts—or else denouncing once again how commercialized Christmas has become. Oddly, no one does news stories on how commercialized their own birthdays have gotten—nor have I heard any of them indicate that they do not plan on accepting any of the presents that they might receive. Meanwhile, between stories, they run commercials for all the Christmas sales in the big department stores.
My in-laws will once again descend upon my home, arriving early on Christmas morning to join in the giving and receiving of presents while my wife sets up our video camera to record the whole thing to a videotape that we'll likely never watch—given that I've never watched any of the videos from the previous twenty-two Christmases since our first child arrived in our house. I remember that first Christmas: she'd come to us but a couple weeks earlier, a tiny eight pound four-month old, undernourished and neglected. At nine on Christmas Eve she'd started crying and we discovered she had a fever. It was significant enough that we wound up taking her to the emergency room, where we waited with her until nearly four AM on Christmas morning. Perhaps not the best way to spend a Christmas Eve, but we rejoiced anyway because she turned out to be okay. Now she's on the verge of graduating from college and rarely gets sick. And she's since been joined by two sisters, also both now adults of college age.
In the kitchen, Christmas cookies have appeared. The smell of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and sugar fills the air. The office party at my work is a quiet affair—as a writer, I'm the only one in my office, after all.
Outside, temperatures have dropped, letting even those of us living in Southern California know that Christmas is coming (it even sometimes drops below freezing at night). There's even some small chance of snow on Christmas day according to the weather service.
So Christmas for me now is mostly happy and relaxed. I try hard not to take it for granted or lose sight of its real meaning: the best Christmas present of all.