The Christmas season comes earlier every year. But this year, a panic seems to be setting in. Will there be toys under the tree? Will we still have Christmas?
Or will all our presents remain in ships off the coast of California?
Our lives have been abnormal for the last two years. Is there a new abnormal coming that we fear even more than a virus? Has America ever seen a time like this one?
Few people are still alive who remember the Great Depression and the joy of getting an orange for Christmas. Just an orange.
In the years since the Depression and World War II, the expectations of many Americans have grown for that one day a year when we know very good things are sure to come. Lots of them.
But we don’t always appreciate the good things in front of us.
I remember the Christmas when I was nine, and it didn’t snow. The weather was unseasonably warm. And Mother baked a ham instead of a turkey.
I didn’t handle it graciously. “It’s like there just wasn’t any Christmas at all this year.”
At least one of my brothers also complained. The other, the eldest at 19, may have had the maturity to show a bit of grace even though turkey was his absolute favorite.
She couldn’t do anything about the weather, but Mother never served ham again on December 25.
I was a young mother when the year of the the Cabbage Patch Doll Christmas occurred. The toys were a big hit, but I’d never stood in line in the dark and cold at 4:00 am, and there was no guarantee that braving the Black Friday ordeal would get me two, one for each daughter.
Well before Christmas, we told the girls that having to wait a year for their Cabbage Patch dreams to come true was likely. With their expectations reduced, they weathered the trauma of waiting until the next year when the dolls were plentiful. They seemed to suffer no harm from the trial of delayed hopes.
Christmases come and go. We’ve had quite a few with turkey but without snow. One recent year, the temperature reached into the 60s. I wore my open-toed red shoes to the Christmas Eve service. Neighbors sat on their front porch as they do during warmer seasons. The unprecedented conditions during that holiday season offered new options, possibilities for making Christmas memorable in a way unlikely to happen again–at least for a long time.
Christmas dinner now includes both ham and turkey. I do the turkey. One of my sons-in-law cooks the ham.
We work together to fulfill expectations that have grown through our varied traditions.
For this year, I’ve already begun to shop, but not any earlier or with more vigor than other years.
Maybe we’ll see more than the usual Black Friday craziness of crowds lining up early and trampling others to get to a hot deal.
Maybe we won’t. Perhaps some will adjust their expectations.
Maybe this year, some will tell kids they might have to wait. With adjusted expectations maybe they’ll see Christmas in a new light.
Maybe we’ll still do the things we usually do. Decorate the tree, play music, hang the lights we already have if we can’t find new ones, wrap the presents we’re able to acquire, cook special foods even if they don’t match our traditional menus, and celebrate with our families.
Maybe we’ll watch Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas and sing along to “Welcome Christmas . . . dahoo dores.” Perhaps our hearts will grow larger.
Maybe we’ll watch George Bailey and realize our lives really are wonderful, despite the trials going on around us.
Maybe we’ll watch Little Women (I recommend the Winona Rider version) and remember that there are Hummel families in our communities too. Maybe we’ll put more in the red kettle this year because we know times are harder for some folks than they are for us.
Maybe we’ll ponder the Babe in the manger whose birth in humble Bethlehem rather than kingly Jerusalem, discovered only by shepherds and foreigners, didn’t meet expectations.
His life disappointed many by ending, not in an earthly kingdom, but in tragedy on a Friday afternoon.
The disappointed and despairing did not expect a Sunday morning unlike any other in history before or since.
But that’s what came to be.
This Christmas will be one to remember for good or for bad. It’s up to us to decide. We can work to remember and honor Christmas as a day much greater than our expectations can dream.