As I write this, at 8 am, the sun is slipping across my desk through the slats in my bamboo shades. Barefoot and barely dressed, I’m sipping lukewarm coffee and wishing for a breeze to come and stir the air a bit. It’s muggy.
My kids are off at noon every day this week, anxiously counting down until Friday, when summer vacation begins. Of course, the end of this count-down signals the beginning of the next; “How many days ’til Christmas, Mom?” And I have to remind myself that, Oh yeah, it’s Christmastime – which explains the six foot juniper, all bedazzled in the living room.
I don’t wanna sound like a total b…erm, I mean…a total grinch, but I’m having a tough time getting in the mood for Holiday festivities. Christmas in the tropics is just too weird. The other day it was super sunny and windy, and I ran into a Costa Rican friend, who said, with a grin, “Doesn’t it feel just like Christmas?!”
Squinting into the hot sun, I bitterly quipped, “Oh, yeah, just like Christmas. Mele Kalikimaka and all that crap.”
It’s just that, until we moved to Costa Rica, I spent my whole life welcoming December with the cold, crisp air of Northern California filling my lungs, and with morning fog, and steaming breath, and a frozen, maraschino cherry of a nose. Where picking out a Christmas tree meant driving up to the snowy foothills and tromping through the forrest with pine needles stuck in your hair. It meant finding the perfect blue spruce and cutting it down with a hacksaw and coming home with your hands all sticky from sap. – Not pulling up to a dirt lot behind an old abandoned banana factory and sweating through your bra while a kid with a shovel digs up a juniper bush trimmed in the familiar cone shape of a Christmas tree.
Of course, I’m trying to remain impartial.
I’m trying to remember that there are a gajillion different ways to enjoy the holidays. And I’m trying to remember that experiencing the traditions of another culture is a gift, a rich blessing – one that shouldn’t be blown off with a flippant (and, oh-so-North-American), “That’s not how we do it.” But this morning one of the sparkly baubles adorning our Christmas shrub popped off and went skittering across the ceramic floor to hide under the couch. It was so obvious that the holiday was taunting me – “Your tree sucks so bad, even the ornaments want nothing to do with it.”
Instead of taking my tree out back and setting it on fire, I poured some eggnog in my coffee and went to my room to find a book. It was a gift from my friend, John Blase. He sent it to me last year, and I knew this morning that it was time to read it again…
Last year, we had gone to the states in December, and I was super stoked because I wanted mykind of Christmas. Ya know? With that chill in the air and the yummy piney Christmas tree scent. But when we got there, instead of feeling all happy and nostalgic, I felt depressed and displaced. I can’t exactly say why, and I’ll spare you the boring details, but let’s just say it was baaaad. Christmas came and went, and all I could think of was getting back on a plane, back to Costa Rica, back to normal life. Then, one day toward the end of the trip, when I was feeling particularly sad and self-absorbed, I picked up John’s little book and locked myself in the bathroom where I read it from cover to cover.
John is a story teller of a different sort. The only way to describe him is simply to say that he picks perfect words. He chooses the kind of words that breath new life into old stories, and his tender retelling of the Christmas story is no different.
Not gonna lie, the title, Touching Wonder, makes me chuckle as it conjures some truly sophomoric jokes – but I’m just stupid like that. It’s the subtitle, Recapturing the Awe of Christmas, that really sings to me. And, last year, when I read this book on the toilet (lid closed, thankyouverymuch!), that’s exactly what it helped me do.
I just needed a little reminder that the story of Jesus wasn’t built around tradition, it was built around people. Real people. Living, breathing, messy people. People who may have occasionally lost sight of the importance of what was happening in their lives, but still had a role in the story.
Don’t get me wrong, I will always believe that tradition is lovely and valuable. And I think there’s space for Christmas trees and Santa Claus and gift giving and eggnog and eating candycanes for dinner on Christmas Eve and again for breakfast on Christmas morning (What? You don’t do that?!). And I cherish the way my kids say, “Remember that time…” and then we laugh about that one time when we crammed a 20 foot tree in our teeny-tiny house, or that other time when we spent hours making a popcorn garland and then we ate it.
But I’m learning that the oldest and richest traditions of Christmas are found, not in how we hang the stockings, bit in what we bring to the table as we seek Him, year after year. It’s how we chase down the star that beckons us in the night, how we bring our gifts to the alter of a baby King, how we look for the path that God would have us traverse and then choose that path above all others. It’s found in how we share the story of Jesus’ arrival with our children and our grandchildren… Even if it is under the twinkling lights of a juniper bush on an 80° day in December. 😉
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What’s your favorite Christmas tradition? Ever spent Christmas away from “home”?