As I survey the merchandising displays for Christmas, I am astounded by all the glitz and glitter. It seems more than ever, we find the humble beginnings of what inspired this special holiday too difficult to accept. I have seen everything from Tickle Me Elmo to video games, but none that portrays the serenity of the Nativity scene.
Most children know that Christmas is the biggest birthday party in the world. They don’t always know for whom, but lucky for them, they get the gifts. Children want entertainment. They want action. If popular folklore and toy manufacturers had their way, a Nativity play-set would have Wise Men with spring action arms and Moroccan swords, and Joseph would have a kung fu grip and magic staff to protect Mary. Baby Jesus would have 12 changes of clothes and be wearing a crown, all the animals in the barn would run on AA batteries and talk, and Mary would look like the Disney Princess, Jasmine. Worse yet, the play-set would also include a King Herod action figure whose eyes light up and would serve as the bad guy for this placid scene. Thank goodness we haven’t gone there yet!
Years ago, while I was growing up on a farm in rural Maine, our family had little money for Christmas. We were afraid that one particular year we would have the fewest gifts we’d had in quite some time. My Dad and Mom came up with an idea that today still brings smiles and laughter to my sister, twin brother, and me. Our assignment was to create a “love gift” for one another. We busied ourselves in the days leading up to Christmas. In that old farmhouse, you could hear the sounds of a saw cutting wood from the attached barn, pans clinking in the kitchen, or the smell of fresh baked cookies and breads wafting their way throughout the house. We all tackled our gift projects with as much enthusiasm as one could muster; some did better than others.
On Christmas Day with over two feet of snow outside, we huddled around the wood stove and opened our presents. I got a board with two nails in it from my brother. It was intended to be a book holder while you read in bed. I was convinced my brother lacked the same enthusiasm for making a gift as I did. I had chosen my sister’s name so I presented to her what I thought was a masterpiece. I had missed five nights of my favorite TV show Hogan’s Heroes making this gift. It was a Santa and sleigh made out of Popsicle sticks and plenty of Elmer’s Glue. She was less than impressed. My brother scored the best gift when he got baked goods from Mom.
It’s been over 38 years since that Christmas. My sister and I occasionally make alterations to my gift and exchange it with each other. Last year she added a reindeer that left me something extra, it made me laugh out loud. Every decade or so we give each other another simple gift as a reminder of the laughter we once shared around a simple family Christmas tree.
This season, take time to make it a little less stressful and a little more simple. I promise a Christmas that will have more meaning and be remembered fondly for a very long time.