“Did you have a good Christmas?” is what you’ll hear a lot of now. It will be the conversation starter co-workers and friends will use, a prelude to what they believe are more important things. And invariably your answer will be “I did,” and you will obey social convention by posing that same question back.
I’m going to offer you that same question now. Did you have a good Christmas? I ask you because I’ve asked myself and others, and the responses I’ve gotten depend a great deal upon a very tricky thing—
What makes a good Christmas?
I’ve found it depends. There are as many answers to that question as there are people. We are a world of individuals, and though we often seem of one accord when it comes to what makes us sad, what makes us happy can differ greatly from person to person. Isn’t that strange? There’s some sort of grand wisdom in that notion, but I can’t seem to dig deep enough to find it.
For me, a good Christmas revolves around family. Having family close always ensures the holidays will be peaceful and bright. I shared this thought with someone at church last Sunday. He nodded and said this Christmas he’s kept his family close as well. All fifteen of them. Parents and brothers and in-laws and children, all packed into his tiny ranch home. “Silent night?” he asked. “Joy to the world? Not so much.”
Despite what my kids will tell you (“Christmas is all about the baby Jesus” is always their first response, automatic in the same way they’ll say Bless you after you sneeze, and often with just as much feeling), deep down they still feel Christmas is about the stuff. It’s those shiny packages under the tree, all that paper and possibility. It was a banner year for them. Also for one of their friends from school, who didn’t get much from Santa but who on Christmas morning found elf footprints in his living room that looked much like baby powder and reindeer droppings on his sidewalk that smelled much like raisins. His father had been laid off from the factory and his mother was fighting a nasty case of the flu, but that didn’t stop both of my kids from saying their friend had a great Christmas, maybe even greater than their own. I agreed. After all, my kids just got stuff. Their friend got magic.
Health is what many of us would say makes a good Christmas. Any Christmas is good so long as everyone’s healthy. And that’s true. A neighbor of mine lost her daughter from a long illness late Christmas day. I was sure she would say she’d trade all the family and stuff and magic in the world for her little girl’s health. But she didn’t. She said her daughter got to help decorate the tree this year, got to watch the star on top lit and flashing. She said the holiday is a reminder that God so loved the world and so hated death that He’d do anything to spare us all from it, even if it meant sacrificing His only son.
In many ways, this is my neighbor’s worst Christmas ever. In one large and magnificent way, it is her best.
Did you really have a good Christmas?
By all accounts I can call my own a rousing success, but I want to know why exactly. I want to put my finger on it, touch it. Know it.
Because I don’t think it’s the family at all. Certainly not the stuff. Not even the magic.
No, I think it’s something along the lines of what my neighbor said.
God so loved the world.
So loved us.
So loves you and me.
I think it’s that promise that makes every Christmas a good Christmas, no matter how much heartache may come with it. I think it’s that gift. One not given to us on one day of the year but all of them, wrapped tight. All we have to do, I think, is open it.