First published December 2013
As we stamped “MADE BY OLIVIA” on the back of our home-made Christmas cards , I felt like there should be another stamp, marking those cards with the truth. Something like “OLIVIA WAS SHOUTED AT THE ENTIRE WAY THROUGH MAKING THESE CUTE CARDS. MERRY CHRISTMAS.”
I wasn’t raised with the idea of the perfect Christmas, and I don’t feel a lot of pressure when December rolls around. But still, we all have our ideas. Nostalgia we are trying to recreate, traditions we are trying to maintain, or start. The need for a certain sight, or smell or food… the need to see certain people… the need, even, for it all to be meaningful. And so, when it seemed like a such a good idea to make Christmas cards with my painting-obsessed toddler… when I imagined it would be festive and fun… when the process was intended to be as important as the outcome… and then the process was a grumpy-stress-fest… well then even I felt the depths of my festive failure. How easily we are taken down by ‘it was supposed to be like this, but instead it turned out like this.’ Sigh.
I have always been drawn to the Christmas Rebels. The ones who tell the truth, challenge the traditions, do things differently. It explains a lot about me that I have been indoctrinated my entire life by my 2 older brothers, and it was no exception when in my impressionable teenage years JM used to rant around the house that “they weren’t really wearing clean tea-towels and marks & spencer dressing gowns you know”, and that “baby Jesus did cry, actually, cried his head off, probably”, and “it wasn’t really snowing” and… and…
… and I joined the revolution there and then.
We were rebels in church during Away in a Manger, clamping our mouths shut for the line “But little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes”. And then later, for “Christian children all must be mild, obedient, good as he”, just because ughhhhhh. And because he wasn’t mild, was he?
I attached myself to some modest Christmas rebellion every year. One year not getting any presents. One year spending the day with the Salvation Army. Several years doing a slightly patronising love the lonely/grumpy Christmas Card campaign. And in later years when I had jobs in care homes and hostels I was always quick to sign-up for a Christmas Day shift.
My teenage campaigns were probably a little dramatic and overlooked the people in my life who wanted to buy me presents, or have Christmas dinner with me. A one-off stint with a charity’s meals-on-wheels does little to change the world-at-large, I know. Yet every Christmas I remember a lady with her cardigan buttoned all wrong., completely on her own, whose home-help hadn’t arrived to get her dressed that Christmas morning. How grateful she was for her turkey dinner in a plastic tray, as she waited by the phone for her son to call from America. I remember all of the people with absent family, without home-cooked meals and with fingers that can do longer dress.
My love for the rebels is not because I don’t love festivity…. I love our fat bushy Christmas tree, love our IKEA decorations, love mulled wine by the saucepan-full and, to the annual disappointment of my husband, still love yankee candles. And honestly, I am counting down the years until Olivia Arnold will be on stage with a tea-towel on her head, or a tinsel halo. But also, I am always listening for the voices saying it was messier than this, it was harder than this, it was wilder than this. I am listening for the ones who say Baby Jesus did cry actually, and so there is more hope, more joy because there is empathy and understanding and God with skin on. And I am trying to notice the ones who are alone, in one way or another, at Christmas, the ones whose struggles feel illuminated by the fairy-lights. And most of all I am always wanting to honour the ones who say it out loud, who say I am sad, I am disappointed, I am scared, stop asking me to pretend I am merry.
I have always been drawn to the Christmas Rebels. The preachers and campaigners and volunteers. The ranters around our kitchen tables. And the writers. These have been my very favourite Advent and Christmas voices this year. So pour your mulled wine, light your candles, curl up by your Christmas tree and honour the ones who say it out loud, who make it all richer and deeper and truer for the rest of us:
In Which Advent is for the ones who know longing by Sarah Bessey
On Why I Need Christ during Christmas at Why Not Smile
The Music IS LOUDER Than The Crying at Momastery
Cobbled-Together Christmas by Addie Zierman
The Fall of Christmas by Jamie the Very Worst Missionary
(Also in 2013 I added Sleeping at Last to my Over the Rhine/Sufjan Stevens Christmas playlist and all December dishes were washed to the sound of ‘Snow’ and ‘I heard the bells on Christmas Day’ on repeat. )
2014 additions (so far!)
This year we have strung up Advent envelopes for the girls’ Jesse Tree ornaments which they decorate each day and we are reading through Unwrapping the Greatest Gift. Some days it seems beautiful and meaningful and other days they snatch crayons from each other and Olivia cries and Imogen hollers “CULL-OR!” drowning out my serene Ann Voskamp attempts.
When the house is quieter in the evenings I’m planning to read along with John Blase’s weekly advent posts at The Beautiful Due and Stocki’s daily Advent Reflections. No crayons or mini clothes pegs in sight.
I’m keeping the Christmas crazies at bay with sane gift perspectives (e.g. Momastery and The Art of Simple), wisdom (Brené Brown: The show must go on. But at what cost?) and a slight addiction to Huffington Post articles about the Elf on the Shelf, especially this one: Truth, Lies and the Elf on the Shelf.
So what about you? What is catching your eye, inspiring you or providing some comic relief this December?