About a week ago, I was sitting in the lounge area of a local spa, waiting for the toenail polish to dry on my freshly completed pedicure. I smiled as I looked down at my bare feet resting on a warm heating pad, and I thought about how much my toenails resembled glittery red Christmas tree ornaments. Very profound thoughts indeed!
My attention was arrested by someone walking in the door with her little boy - a little cutie of about four years of age. The mom rushed over to the reception desk and stood there waiting for the receptionist to finish her phonecall. She tapped her foot (I thought that was something only to be found in books, but she really stood there, toe-tapping), sighed loudly enough that I could hear it from twenty feet away, snapped at her little boy when he asked how long they'd have to be there...she positively exuded impatience. When it was her turn to address the woman behind the counter, she said that she needed to buy a number of gift certificates and that she was in a hurry to get her Christmas shopping done, so could the receptionist please tell her how long this would take. What came to mind as I watched this customer was that I couldn't think of a more apt example than her of someone said to be growling at another person. As the two women sorted out the various spa treatments, the mother twice told her little boy to be quiet and not to touch anything, made a quick (and very snappy!) phonecall to her sister to get her ideas as to what mom might like in addition to the set of pots she'd already purchased for her, and barked out at the receptionist (while on the phone) that she needed to be "out of here" within five minutes. In the end, she ordered five packages for various people in her life; her total bill came to a whopping $462.00. Almost $500 spent in five frantic minutes and she did not blink an eye...it was me having conniptions on the other side of the room.
I couldn't help but notice that the serenity I'd so been enjoying until a few minutes before had evaporated. Suddenly, I, too, was stressed and frazzled; just listening to her, watching her, made me tense. I felt sympathy for the little boy who stood ever-so-patiently at her side while she ranted on; once, the only time he looked my way, I smiled at him and gave him a little wave - he smiled back. Seconds later, as they were finally heading out the door, the boy looked up at him mom and said "mommy?" Her response? A sharp "what?" "I love you," he answered, with all of the innocent conviction and warmth in his voice that you could imagine. They were out the door before I could hear her reply. I'll never know what she said but I'm sure hoping that his little expression of adoration was something that she was able to honour, even in the busyness of the moment.
I gradually relaxed again and wiggled my toes to admire the effect of the glitter. As I settled in to watch the paint dry, I ignored the book I'd brought and turned my thoughts towards Christmas. Why is it, I thought, that we feel this need, on an annual basis, to put ourselves through something akin to a marathon, in order to feel prepared (with joyful outlook firmly in place) to celebrate Christmas? More than a few years have passed where I've been that woman scurrying around doing all manner of last minute things, spending way too much money in order to provide a moment's pleasure when we watch the receiver open our gift. Yet, the longer I live through these yearly traditions, the more I am questioning why we choose to do things this way (and it is a choice) and wondering how we can do things differently.
Really, really, what is Christmas about anyway? For me, as a Christian, maybe the answer should be obvious. But it's not. Because Christians aren't immune to the fuss and bother that accompanies this season anymore than someone who's chosen a different spiritual outlook on life. In fact, sometimes I think that Christians are worse at this kind of stuff because in addition to everything else that needs somehow to be accomplished at Christmas, Christians also get anxious about the Christmas play or choir that we or our kids are involved in (including all of the rehearsals leading up to performance day), making sure we get the right Christmas outfit to wear to church on Christmas eve and at other get togethers (did I mention how adorable Matthew looks in his Christmas outfit: black pants; white shirt with fine black and red stripes on it; his first-ever black knit vest with white trim around the v-neck.... But see what I mean??!), and on and on.
So even as a Christian, and as someone who honours Christ's birth during this time of year, I don't have the answer to my own question. But it's the question I want to ponder in the coming days.
This year, it just so happens that Geoff, Matthew and I are doing things a little differently than in past years - more about that tomorrow. But this year is not the norm and next year I'll be back to doing the same-old-same-old next year unless I/we make a conscious choice to do things in a new way. Interestingly, it's in part because we're doing something different this year that I'm beginning to realize with a bit more objectivity how little I want the Christmases of our future to be like the ones of the past. I don't want to be that anxious woman at the spa who was so consumed by her to-do list; I don't want to be one of the mall walkers that haunt stores in search of the perfect gifts until the last possible moment...I've been there and I'm sure I've seen many of you there, too! I want Christmas to be something different. Significant. Meaningful. Memorable for reasons that have nothing to do with the gifts we received or the number of turkey dinners we've consumed.
So that's my question for this year: What is Christmas about anyway?