People are always surprised to find out that I despise the holidays. Especially Christmas. Since I am a Pastor and devout follower of Jesus, everyone assumes that I would love and embrace all things Christmas. After all, it is celebrating the birth of Jesus.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
There are a multitude of reasons that the holidays and me do not see eye-to-eye. Let us begin with Thanksgiving. Growing up, my dad was an alcoholic. Not a functioning one either. All I remember about Thanksgiving was going to the bars looking for him and the fighting. I think the Canadians are on to something, celebrating Boxing Day the day after Christmas. I know the origins of the holiday but the name is appropriate to what most people want to do after spending two days with family members. Beat something up.
Growing up, Christmas Eve was always a good holiday. We had traditions. My mom would make sloppy Joes and all my siblings would come over. Santa would come while we napped or went to 11 pm church service. I have fond memories of my hair catching on fire while we sang Silent Night and I fell asleep in the flame. Fire and young children do not mix. We would open gifts at midnight and stay up until 2 or 3 in morning and sleep in on Christmas Day. This all changed when my mom died the summer before my Senior year of high school. Christmas really has never been the same for me. Somewhere along the way, my dad threw away all of our childhood Christmas ornaments. He did not mean to do it, I don’t think he even knew he did it. And anyone who knows me, knows that pictures and home-made gifts and memories are important to me. One of the reasons I love writing so much is that it captures important moments, moments I don’t want to forget.
Christmas Eve 75 or 76….none of those ornaments are around anymore :(
My dad and I went years without a Christmas tree. Eventually, we would put up the ceramic tree my mom made. I remember one year, we put a white sheet over our grill and put the ceramic tree on it. The Beverly Hillbillies had nothing on us. Classy was our middle name.
My mom’s ceramic Christmas tree. Somewhere throughout the years, the star was lost!
I think the biggest reason I struggle with the holidays is that it is a reminder of what I have lost. In the past 12 years, I have lost over 14 family members. My dad, my brother Jerry, and a brother-in-law are counted in that number. While most in my family have gotten married and have had children, I have not. Christmas is not a single person’s holiday. Don’t get me wrong, I love my life. I love where I am and what God has called me to do. I always knew that I did not want kids. Marriage isn’t out of the question but up until this point, I haven’t found the right one. And to be honest, I haven’t tried very hard to look. I figured it would happen when it happened. And some of the loneliest people I have met have been married. But I digress.
And then there is the over commercialization of the holidays. The money people spend that they cannot afford. The guilt one feels with every Christmas card they receive from someone knowing they did not send one back to them….
So I have faced the holidays every year like most people face a root canal.
Several weeks ago, my church had a Grieving through the Holidays workshop. The ironic thing is that I am the one who planned it. The speaker was a wonderful, licensed grief counselor that I have received training from in the past. He asked each of us to share. To help others share more easily, I shared how I have basically skipped Christmas for the past 20 or so years. When he closed in prayer, he prayed for each of us that had attended. When he prayed for me, he prayed that God would show me how to begin to re-engage with the holidays. That my 20 year hiatus was long enough.
Grief work and counseling tells you to start new traditions. And over the past few years I have made feeble attempts at it. The past 4 years on Christmas Eve, I have had dinner at a Mexican restaurant with several friends. Thanksgiving has been spent at Cracker Barrel with family and friends. And instead of a Christmas tree, I now have a palm tree and decorate it.
My Christmas palm tree.
Anything beach :)
I love that this Pink Flamingo is playing a fish as a guitar! Tis the season!
But I realized that I needed to do something more. Something to make it meaningful and to make it mine. And to make it something that would honor Jesus.
This holiday season at church, sacrificial giving was emphasized. We were encouraged as a church to give and give and give. And give some more. Four opportunities were given to us to choose from. The first opportunity was to help provide Thanksgiving meals for people in our community. We gathered food and delivered them to 41 families in our community. We run a commissary and those who needed help signed up. We provided 15 pound turkeys and everything one would need to cook a meal from butter to potatoes to pie crusts. Baskets were filled and ready to be delivered in 10 minutes!!! That is how many people showed up to help. What fun it was to deliver the baskets to people who don’t have much.
The second opportunity for giving was feeding lunch the Friday before Thanksgiving to all the personnel of our school district. Teachers are such an overlooked and under appreciated segment of society. They are entrusted with the most valuable asset of any community…our children and we wanted to show appreciation. So we fed 230 teachers, administrators and support staff a Thanksgiving lunch in the three different schools in our community. What a blessing! They were so appreciative!
The third opportunity to give was with Christmas Shoeboxes. Members of our church donated toys, soap, toothbrushes, combs, socks, etc to be put in shoe boxes and delivered by Buses International to Appalachian children at a sister church of ours in Virginia and an orphanage in Kentucky. We exceeded our goal of boxes we wanted to send.
The last opportunity was the Angel Tree. A lady in our church heads up our prison ministry. On the very Sunday she presented the idea of buying gifts for children whose parents are incarcerated, every name was taken off the tree!
And last Saturday evening, we had an appreciation dinner and program that was cooked and served by the teens of our church to honor the older members of our congregation (60 and over). This idea was birthed in the heart of a 2nd grader of our church who loves older people. He went to Pastor Jim and simply said he wanted to feed old people. He had his dad draw different pictures and sold them so that he could fund part of this dinner. Amazing!
Christmas is celebrating and honoring the best gift we have ever received, Jesus Christ. He stepped out of eternity, into time to be born as a helpless baby so that when He grew up, He would die on the Cross to restore mankind’s relationship with God. The holidays are about sacrificial giving. Giving even when it hurts, when you don’t feel like you have anything left to give. Giving when the hurt and loneliness are so overwhelming, you don’t think you can breathe.
It is buying food for those who cannot afford to, it is serving a meal and honoring people who weren’t expecting it, it is making sure orphans in the Appalachians have something to open on Christmas morning, it making sure children, whose parents are in prison, know that they are not forgotten. It is honoring those who have gone before us.
So this Scrooge began to take back Christmas for herself. Through giving. Just like the example Jesus set.
I want to say that I am looking forward to Christmas which is less than two weeks away. I’m not. But I’m not dreading it either. That my friend is progress. And I will take it. After all, the blog is entitled “The tale of a RECOVERING Scrooge.”