When I was a kid, I loved Christmas. LOVED it. Most kids do, I guess — all the twinkling lights, the extra cookies, the break from school. The presents.
Especially the presents.
But I loved Christmas music, too. When I was ten, I embarrassed myself by belting out Christmas carols in the shower at summer camp. The acoustics, as I remember, were spectacular. I didn’t realize that singing O Holy Night in mid-July was odd at best, and annoying at worst. To me, it was a beautiful song, about a beautiful event, and it moved me. The feeling I got from singing that song couldn’t be constrained by seasons…could it?
When I finished my shower concert, I realized the whole dormitory was laughing. Somebody called me an elf. In the cafeteria, at the pool, I was singled out as the Girl Who Sings Christmas Carols in the Shower. I was pretty jazzed about this new identity, and continued to treat my fellow campers to my vocal stylings, for the remainder of my stay.
I mean, who doesn’t like Christmas?
A lot of people, actually. I wouldn’t have understood it at ten, that particular December malaise that falls like a musty blanket over the hearts of otherwise-content people. I hardly understand it now, decades later.
Perhaps it’s the idea of spending as much on Christmas presents as I spend on my mortgage.
Or maybe it’s the expectation of extreme good cheer, the notion that now, more than any other time, we’re supposed to feel all snuggly about mankind. It’s a lot of pressure, after all. Not to mention the fact that mankind has been particularly unattractive lately.
Don’t get me wrong. Every year I put up a Christmas tree and string my house with lights. I make cookies (or buy them from the supermarket), I send out Christmas cards and donate to charities and purchase gifts for the people I love. But this is my dirty little secret: I’m just going through the motions, waiting for the magical Christmas feeling that never comes. I’d like to be all starry-eyed and full of wonder like I was at ten. But something’s missing and it has been for a long time. It’s not exactly bah-humbug territory, this land where I’m living, but it shares a border.
At this time of year especially, I miss belonging to a church community. I miss the sense of shared ritual, of a meaning that runs deeper than the slot in a credit-card machine. From time to time, I consider going to a service. But then I remember a certain scorn cherished by the never-miss-a-Sunday adults of my childhood, a scorn reserved for people who attended only at Christmas and Easter. Bi-annual Christians, that’s what such people were called, and they were to be pitied for their poverty of spirit.
The thing is, I like not going to church. I like waking up on Sunday morning and sharing an endless pot of coffee with my husband. I like lying around in my pajamas until noon. I like to spend hours curled in a chair with my nose in a book, to go for a walk or dig in my garden. Church, to me, has always been antithetical to the whole day-of-rest concept. There’s nothing — NOTHING — relaxing about pantyhose.
Nevertheless, I miss church this time of year. I don’t want to feel blasé about Christmas.
With all the distractions — the things we know Christmas isn’t, but easily forget — I want to have my focus realigned with a sense of mystery and wonder. I want to marvel that I am here at all, that I’m not hungry or cold or sick, that every day is filled with opportunities for kindness. I want to feel my blessings more keenly. Most of all, I long to return to a sacred space inside myself — a chapel of the soul, where awe unfolds as naturally as a blossom.
This is what I want for Christmas — this thing that money cannot and never could buy. I want to sing again, to lift my voice for the pure pleasure of doing it — now, and in July.