The nice Dutch mom lingered in my international school classroom in Tokyo at the end of the day. She had a worried look on her face. “Ghosts, witches? I don’t understand Halloween. Can you explain it to me?”
I had no idea what to tell her, and, truthfully, I’d never really thought about it before. I think I mumbled something about it just being a fun day for dressing up and eating candy. Why did I get dressed up and carve pumpkins and hang skeletons around the room? I had no idea.
There’s nothing like traveling to a foreign country to give you a new perspective–or a lot more questions–about why or how you do something. Last Christmas, my pastor told the congregation about the trip to the Sudan that he and his brother had just taken. He looked around the church that was so beautifully decorated for the holidays (there really isn’t a prettier one at Christmas than First Covenant Church in Seattle), and he told us how the Sudanese people celebrate Christmas. There isn’t a wreath, ornament, or snowflake in sight, but their joy at Christ’s coming in to the world is palpable and contagious. The pastor had felt quite overwhelmed by it, in a good way.
There are lots of reasons why people feel overwhelmed at the holidays, and for many of them, it’s not in a good way. Family tensions can rise, old disappointments and sorrows rear their heads, and the sheer busy-ness of cards to write, decorations to put up, gifts to make or buy, all the special meals and baking to be done, etc., can give you a Santa’s bag-sized headache before you even turn the calendar to December. Sometimes I feel that way, and I love Christmas. There’s nothing better than a December Saturday in my kitchen with Christmas music playing (usually something by Amy Grant), and my two daughters and I baking something with cardamom and lots of butter in it. Still. Christmas can feel like a big box of expectations tied up in an emotional bow. It can be scary.
What if someone asked you, “Wreaths? Elves? I don’t understand Christmas. Can you explain it to me?” What would you say?
This year, I’m going to take a tip from the Sudanese. I’m going to start the season by enjoying Jesus. Before I read a single Christmas catalog, magazine, or Pinterest board, before I shop for a single present or write a single card, I think I’ll read about how Jesus came into the world, what he did during his life, and what happened after he died.
I’ll ponder for awhile how the angels told the shepherds and lonely people through the ages that Jesus is Immanuel (God with us). How the prophet, Isaiah, told oppressed people that he is Almighty God. How John the Baptist told sinful people that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. I’ll talk to Jesus more often and praise him for the way he has worked in my life this past year, and thank him for all of the people he has given to me in my life, and for my job. I’ll thank Him for Him.
What about you? Are you with me? Let’s start the season with Jesus and believe that the rest of it will fall in to place. Let’s say with confidence: “The holidays are upon us! Us, scared? Bah! Humbug!”