I write this in the early morning of December 21, four days until Christmas.
The presents have been hidden but not yet wrapped. The tree is up, the lights hung on the house. The tiny plastic wise man who has for so long roamed he downstairs in search of our Nativity remains hopefully (and haplessly) searching. Last I checked, he was perched atop the clock in the living room. Moved there, I will add, by hands not my own. I’ve narrowed the suspects down to a certain daughter and son, and now I’m waiting to see when and where he will move again. That is one of the finer things about having teenagers as children. My kids are too cool for Santa and too sophisticated to go looking for elves. But that plastic wise man on the clock has left me believing they still hold to the magic that is this time, and that I have taught them well enough to know they can do their own small parts in spreading it.
Christmas has snuck up on me this year.
Such a thing has never happened. As a boy, the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day was the longest slog imaginable, more difficult even than the month before summer vacation. Back then, the newspaper would publish a little cartoon at the bottom of the front page that included how many days more I had to wait. Thirty seemed an insurmountable number. Twenty wasn’t much better. By the single digits, my parents were praying it would all be over soon. The pace of time was so slow as to be maddening.
But this morning I poured my coffee in shock of the calendar on the refrigerator. The twenty-first? Impossible. How could Christmas get here so fast? Where have I been?
I’ve read that the passage of time feels quicker to adults more than children because of simple math. A month feels like days because I have so many months behind me. The thirty or so days since Thanksgiving comprises only a small percentage of the time I’ve lived, whereas the little kid across the street (the one currently searching for reindeer tracks out in his yard) has fallen to the belief that Christmas will never get here. This past month is a much larger chunk of his life.
It makes a certain amount of sense when you think about it. Still, I’m not wholly buying into the theory. Most people I know will never admit it, but they secretly abhor Christmas. Having to wonder where the money will come from for all those gifts. Having to haul all of those decorations from the attic. The travel. And really, how many times can you hear “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” before you want to shove an ice pick into your ear?
Family squabbles. Family worries. Realizing you once viewed this time of year with anticipation—“What’s going to happen next!”—and now it’s more the dread of “What’s going to happen next?”
Believe me, I know. That kid across the street? Give him time. Put a few Christmases behind him, he won’t be out there looking for reindeer tracks. He’ll be the father standing at the door yelling for his kid to get inside. Or he’ll be the neighbor looking from an upstairs window and secretly hoping that maybe there really is a track somewhere. At the edge of the roof, maybe. Santa making a practice run.
Time. That’s what I’m thinking about this year. Where it’s all going and gone.
What tends to trip up so many about Christmas is its insistence on slowing us down and reflecting a little. I can think of no other holiday like it. That’s a tough thing for a lot of us to do. Maybe that’s why we’re so insistent on keeping busy this time of year. We’d rather feel stressed than silent. We’re more comfortable thinking it’s all about what’s happening now rather than what happened then.
That’s it’s about us and not the Child.
We are coming fast upon an occasion so wonderful, so life altering, that the entirety of Western civilization has divided history itself into all that happened before it and all that has happened since. A birth that came not with royal aplomb, but quiet mystery. In four days we will celebrate whatever it is we love most. To some, it will be family. To others, things wrapped in shiny paper. Still more will celebrate nothing at all.
Doesn’t matter. Doesn’t change the fact that baby was born for us all that we may know once and finally that we are not alone, that there exists in each of us a worth and a purpose unimaginable, and that with him we may be battered by life, but never bettered. Love will win in the end. Light has overcome darkness. Dawn will chase away every dark night.