I spent some time yesterday thinking back on the best memories I have from different Christmases.
One memory is from a hospital in northern Thailand where I had given birth to a baby the day before Christmas Eve. On Christmas Eve there was a knock on the door and then my good friend entered dressed in a Santa hat, and with a full dinner in her basket. She brought lamb chops, potatoes and all kinds of condiments. For a few hours she had left husband and children alone just so she could spend some time with our little family, and to bring some Christmas cheer. With my gut torn up by a C-section, boobs that were about to explode and a body that felt like it was leaking both here and there, her dinner and the love warmed me more than an electric blanket.
I remember my husband and my first Christmas together. We were so poor we could only afford to spend ten simple dollars on each other. I bought him a pair of fleece socks and he bought me markers. Strangely enough, I remember these gifts better than i remember gifts we have given each other in later years, when we have been able to afford more expensive stuff. Perhaps because not as much thought has been behind those gifts.
What parent doesn’t remember his or her child’s homemade gifts, and not to mention, the look of expectancy in their faces while we unwrap the pieces of art: A jewelry box decorated with more glue than beads, a knitted pot holder with holes and uneven stitches, a handmade card complete with enough spelling errors to give teachers a breakdown. I value these gifts, with all their imperfections, more than the most expensive diamond (which is an impossible comparison since diamonds have no value whatsoever for me. But I hope you understand the analogy).
I will never forget Christmases spent with refugees and poor people in Burma. If you ever want to understand the essence of Christmas I recommend sitting with these people under the starry sky while they sing Christmas carols while thanking God that he came and became a baby. Suddenly all stress and worry is forgotten, and only the most important remains: Faith, hope and fellowship with one another. During these times I have felt neither race, class or generation gaps. I have not felt that my makeup wasn’t on right, or that I underdressed for the occasion. Like magic we have melted together like one big pot of Beef Stroganoff, each one of us with our own infirmities.
These people are able to do something we are not so good at. They have chosen to prioritize the real values, the ones that will last. I am not talking about the added flab around our waist due to too many Christmas calories, but I am talking about the strength one receives from fellowship and care for one another.
When I think back on all our Christmases, I don’t remember the times when we had the most amount of money and bought expensive gifts for each other. I don’t remember the times when I had been able to clean the whole house for the holidays. Our decorations have never followed a particular color scheme, and we will never be considered experts on Christmas interior. But that doesn’t matter. What is left as the good memories are the people and the community, the feeling of belonging and being loved. I think that is what all of us actually want for Christmas. We want it so much more than the new iPhone.
Last year we invited some refugees from Burma over to make cookies with us. I will never forget one of the things they said:
“Here in this country people are not as concerned with fellowship with one another. But they are very interested in buying stuff for Christmas. In our village everybody would gather and celebrate Christmas together. We sang carols and made good food. We miss our own village during Christmas time. We are often so lonely here during this time.”
The true meaning of Christmas? I think it is what we all want. Togetherness in a place where we are allowed to be imperfect and true. The feeling of acceptance, even in our failures. Love that says: I know you don’t have it all together, but that is OK. I am in the same boat. If only one add some marzipan and chocolate to this mixture, one has the recipe for a good Christmas.
I am going to sit down with a cup of coffee now. With my coffee I will have a cookie my daughter made yesterday. It is not a piece of art, but it was made with a lot of love. I can taste it.