By Jemelene Wilson
Christmas. Just the word evokes images of experiences, both unique to our hearts and common to those around us. Trimming trees, baking, shopping, and decorating fill the lists of activities we engage in to make Christmas “feel like Christmas.” The phrase “It just isn’t Christmas without __________ (fill in the blank)” sets us all up for disappointment on those days when real life finds its way into our celebrations. And it’s easy to wrap our feelings so tightly around traditions that discerning our priorities becomes difficult.
When I was a young bride, my mother encouraged my husband and me to make our own traditions. But when we moved a day’s drive away from friends and family, we found ourselves having Christmas dinner at the home of our new pastor. We accepted the invitation because all we had known growing up was family gathered around large tables filled with laughter and good food, and we were desperate for that familiar feeling. In hindsight—although we learned from the experience—I wish we would have done something new, just the two of us.
Days before we gathered, the other guest called to inform me she had taken over the meal planning and needed to know what my contribution would be. When I offered to bring our favorite boysenberry cheesecake, she let me know her family wouldn’t eat any of it and I should think of something else. Looking back, I can see the grip of her expectations wasn’t that different from mine. We each wanted to craft Christmas Day around our own desires.
A year later my water broke an hour before midnight on Christmas Eve. Unable to be home even though I wasn’t in active labor (I wouldn’t give birth for forty-eight hours), my husband, Russ, wanted to bring in all our gifts to open in my hospital room. My mom did not. She was more comfortable waiting until we returned home. Mom wanted Christmas to feel like it “should,” but tradition had already flown out the window. No matter what, we couldn’t make it feel like a holiday. We had no choice but to embrace the fact that the absence of tradition doesn’t diminish the beauty of those days. The observance of a holiday isn’t what brings significance; it’s the other way around.
I’ve never kept track of how many Christmas Days have come and gone when our feelings didn’t match our expectations. Our seasons of loss have overlapped more than one holiday. And busy seasons of joy have still brought the need for uncomplicated plans. But when we found ourselves accepting simplicity, we began to know a deeper hope and gratitude. These were the times we were grateful for our Savior, who will always be our Emmanuel, our God with Us.
Jesus will be my comfort this year. I’m entering the first Christmas season of my life without my daddy. There is no way to know how many moments will feel festive and how many will not. This is what I do know: we will honor the significance of those days in old and new ways. I will allow myself to let go of plans that draw me away from peace and joy. My prayer is that we’ll all find beauty in the being, not just in the doing.
Jemelene Wilson is a passionate storyteller who writes of faith, hope, love, and food. She’s madly in love with her pastor husband and mama bear to two daughters. Grace is a fairly new concept she is exploring with her life and words. Mama Jem believes we should live gently and love passionately. You can find more of her writing at jemelene.com.