The day after Christmas is always hard.
Hard to put an end to all the hype and happiness; hard to turn off the Christmas music for a whole other year; hard to hug distant relative goodbye; hard to wrap up all the holiday decor; hard to let go of the intimate gatherings and silence the belly-aching laughter. But as difficult as the bookend of Christmas is, it’s even harder to imagine a life without it.
I cannot fathom what it would be like any other way … growing up without family to visit, presents to open, a warm house to come home to, delicious dishes to devour, or a church to attend. Growing up, this was all I knew. I didn’t once take any of it for granted, but the older I now become, the more my eyes are opened to the beauty of nostalgia. The quicker the time passes, the more I wish it would just stay put. Though Christmas, even with its traditions, changes each year, there is a feeling that remains remarkably present. There is an emotion that returns each time I hear the familiar tunes playing in my head, or gaze into the lively flame in my hands at the candlelight worship service. There is one constant, one dependency, one reliable source of love each Christmas. The love of Christ in celebration of His birth, is a love that never fades.
I was the kid who believed in Santa Claus until the 6th grade. Up until that time, I had no reason to question; I had no reason to doubt. I simply knew how to trust. With this belief in a jolly old man I had never seen, I let myself become lured in by the magic of Christmas. I followed all the rules, behaved myself (especially around December), always left out the good cookies, and wrote old St. Nick letters and curious dialogue. My parents were awesome at playing the role of the mysterious gift-giver, and I was convinced that the tales were true.
Even with friends who did not believe, I didn’t want to follow suit. Even if Santa wasn’t real, I didn’t want to disbelieve in it all. To me, this idea robbed the joy of Christmas. I would rather believe in something that makes me hopeful, and participate in a tradition that makes me happy, rather than try and find reasons to prove all of it rubbish.
I often faced embarrassment for my gullibility, but I continued to hold my ground—until one Christmas eve I came across Santa’s handwriting on a notepad in my dad’s office. That night I heard nails being hammered into trees outside our house—definitely not reindeer hoofs—making it difficult to sleep.
The next morning my brother and I were prompted to follow a trail of yarn, leading us to the garage in the backyard, each piece of string wrapped around a nail hammered into a redbud tree. The minute I saw the string, I knew. Keeping quiet for my little brother, I held my heartbreak inside. That Christmas, I experienced the magic drift away. Yet I didn’t try and catch it. I let it go, watching it spin away into the wind, slouching in my own disappointment.
Since that Christmas morning, I have experienced something even greater than magic, which rises with each winter season. I have experienced the wondrous light of the Lord, which, unlike Santa’s sleigh, does not have to come and go. God’s light is present year round, but shines brighter on each Christmas morn. And with every Christmas eve I come to meet, I hear in my head the nails being plowed into the tree … though this time it’s the cross-shaped tree which held my Savior until his death for me.
Though it took a while, I can now replace my trust in something indescribable. I can deeply believe in something unshakable. I can choose to live for something I may never fully understand. But I can rest my head in a peaceful and thankful slumber, with a faithful assurance that the Giver of Joy does see me when I’m sleeping and knows when I’m awake. My new giver of joy loves me regardless of my gift-wrapping, decorating, or Christmas cooking. His love is what produces the feeling of Christmas. The familiar feeling that sprouts from being surrounded by love, no matter what happened during the calendar year. His love is what I believe in. His grace is always wrapped neatly under my tree. It is, with each passing season, the greatest gift there is.
” In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.” ~1 John 4:9