I admit, this picture is just on here because my niece is so stinkin' cute, and I thought it deserved to be seen.
You know how some years just feel like Christmas? As soon as Thanksgiving is over, the season of magic begins and life is nothing but Bing Crosby and twinkling lights and sugar cookies and Christmas cheer for an entire month. This was not that year.
I can blame a lot of things. Texas weather. Short sleeves in December. The cancelled trip to Nashville. The lingering concern about whether or not we would get a paycheck before Christmas. We did, by the way. And we were grateful. A whole week of illness that I had to work throughout. There were lots of things to blame. But for whatever reason, right up until Christmas Eve, it just didn't feel Christmasy to me.
We did all the regular Christmas things. We decorated the tree and the mantel. I went shopping. I bought gifts. I baked. I played Christmas records, including the much-criticized Amy Grant Christmas album from 1983. We attended Christmas parties. We stole Christmas ornaments from my co-workers in an especially snarky game of Dirty Santa. We received surprise gifts from friends, and we were amazed at how God takes care of us. We drove all the way to Bullard, Texas to see Andrew Peterson and company perform Behold the Lamb of God, one of the best Christmas concerts I have ever seen (four times). We had dinner at the Gaylord Texan and braved the crowds to experience the amazing Christmas lights display. We did everything right. And still, not Christmasy.
Jake and I decided at the last minute to forego the usual Christmas shopping for each other and to spend our allotted Christmas budgets on things we needed or wanted for ourselves. We both had a list of things that didn't fit into our regular monthly budget, and so we did the practical thing and bought ourselves gifts. Rather, we planned to buy ourselves gifts. Jake bought his right away (spent all of his money in one place, which I would never do), and I have officially spent $12 of my budget. I have not yet thought of anything worthy of the rest of my money. But this ruins a little bit of the Christmas magic, knowing that Christmas morning you will only have things that you picked out for yourself, or in my case, having nothing but a DVD because you didn't buy yourself anything. It's lame, and I never want to do it again.
But Christmas Eve morning, we bundled up and drove to DeSoto, Texas to meet Jake's family at Cracker Barrel for breakfast. If you can't feel Christmasy in a Cracker Barrel with a blazing fire and a whole store filled with angels and ornaments and George Jones singing Christmas carols, there is something seriously wrong with you. Add in biscuits with real butter and hashbrown casserole, and it's basically Bethlehem revisited. Minus the manger and stable and all that jazz. But Cracker Barrel breakfast with family is extra fantastic. And then that afternoon, we drove to Grand Prairie where my parents, all of my siblings, their spouses and children were waiting on us to have dinner. And we ate and exchanged gifts and watched as the kids flung paper everywhere and wished that we had a thousand more presents to give my niece Reagan (not because we like her best but because of the adorable way she squealed and hugged every gift as if it were her favorite). It was plenty festive.
The real gifts of Christmas came at the end of the night. I recently got a heck of a deal on a Sony VCR at a local thrift store, and I brought it, along with several video tapes I had from the 90's. The first was a video I made for an ex-boyfriend (thanks, Andy, for giving it back), and it had hilarious footage of my sister Ashlae pretending to be an old lady. The second was a video my family made for me the Christmas of 1998 when I was in New Zealand. My sisters Jana and Ashlae narrated, and the footage led through three days worth of Christmas festivities. We laughed until we cried at the old hairstyles, crazy dances, and the babies that are now grown into teenagers. We saw the grandparents who are no longer with us, and then we all just cried. And as I was sitting there, laughing so hard that my cheeks hurt, I realized that this was the thing I had waited for. This was Christmas. It started with God giving the gift of his Son, yes. But in that, he gave Mary and Joseph a family. They arrived in Bethlehem, the place Joseph came from, a couple, and they left a family. And when I think about Mary and Joseph as the real, actual people that they were, I have to think that for them, this was less about giving birth to a Saviour. I'm not sure they really, truly understood all of that just yet. This was about a the blessing of a son. A baby. An addition to their family.
On this end of things, we know what it meant. A baby. All God, all man. A Saviour. A sinless life. A sacrifice on a cross. We get it. And we celebrate it. But I love that we celebrate it with family. We go back to the place we came from, and we celebrate our Saviour with the people who know us best. Everyone's "family" looks different. You might have chosen friends as family this year. Maybe your family is small. Maybe your biological family is distant, and you chose church family. Doesn't matter. In those hours that I spent with my family, watching Reagan hug her Minnie Mouse and seeing my nephews roll their eyes a little because I got them pajamas... again, I felt Christmas. I felt it when my sweet nephew Connor cried because he missed my grandmother that passed away this Spring. I felt it again the next day when, miracle of all miracles, it snowed in Texas on December 25. I felt it when we stood in the kitchen and heard my daddy pray over our food. I felt the gift that God gave us so long ago in Mary and Joseph's little family, and the gift that He gave to me in mine.