I'll admit it. I haven't had much Christmas spirit this year. I always look forward to the start of this season, which in our house begins the day after Thanksgiving. We put up our tree and decorations, and also do some gift shopping on Black Friday. That weekend, however, started off with our daughter throwing up and the kick off to the Christmas season was very quickly dampened. Eventually her sickness spread to the rest of us, and we realized we had all come down with a nasty stomach bug. Add to that several days of freezing cold temperatures with grey skies, then an ice storm followed by a snow storm and two children with runny noses and bad coughs, and my "holiday spirit" was buried deep beneath a foot of snow along with the kids' backyard toys. Those things didn't exactly leave me dancing in the streets, singing "It's The Most Wonderful Time of the Year".
I tried hard to find it again, that elusive feeling. You know, the one you had as a child, where everything was magical and glorious at Christmastime. The snow transformed the neighborhood into a winter wonderland, instead of an icy nightmare. The beautiful tree with all of its sparkling lights and glittery ornaments made the house warm and bright, instead of something you're afraid is going to come crashing down on a two-year-old. Christmas songs and movies delighted; the whole world seemed open to endless possibilities. That joyful feeling kept escaping me, however, no matter the cheesy Christmas movies I watched or the decorating I did or the keeping up with the Elf on the Shelf charade. The feeling alluded me even when I listened to familiar, classic songs and bought presents for loved ones.
I was getting our toddler ready for bed the other night, and "Hark, The Herald Angels Sing" randomly popped into my head. I began to sing it to my sweet baby girl, the words getting caught in my throat as I was hit with their magnitude. "Hark, the Herald Angels sing; glory to the newborn king. Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled. Joyful all ye nations rise, join the triumph of the skies. With angelic host proclaim, Christ is born in Bethlehem." Then I felt it: joy. Pure joy over the gift of Jesus coming down from Heaven to be born into the most humbling of circumstances, so that I could be reconciled to the Father. "Mild He lays His glory by, born that men no more may die. Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel..." These words from one of my favorite carols spoke to me that night in just the way I needed, reminding me that my joy- during the Christmas season and all throughout the year- is found in Christ. Because of what He did, because of who He is, and what He was willing to give up for me.
I can feel happy admiring the lights on our Christmas tree, or passing down traditions to my children to celebrate this time of year, but true joy only comes from knowing Jesus. It's not a "feeling" I can catch and hold onto either. I need to be deliberate about focusing on Christ, otherwise my spirit is squelched when I discover that a gift is on back order, or when I run out of propane and can't bake the cookies in the oven, or when it takes me an hour to bundle up two small kids just so we can run an errand that will only take 15 minutes.
The Christmas spirit I've been trying to track down gets lost a little bit more each year under the pile of grownup responsibilities and life's inconveniences. The magic and wonder get squeezed out by laundry, diapers and dishes. I find that since I am so intent on making sure my children have wonderful memories of this time of year, I am really not having much fun at all myself. That kind of Christmas spirit always leaves me wanting. Intentionally focusing on the birth of our savior fulfills long after the belief in Santa and flying reindeer is outgrown. As the cutesy children's song goes, "All the tinsel and lights and the presents are nice, but the real gift is You."