By Patrick Anderson
Except for a few years when our children were small, but even then, deep down, I have harbored an adult-long dislike for Christmas. I don’t like the mythology of Santa. The reliance of the entire American economy on retailers’ success in wooing me to spend money on foolish things is a very big turn-off. The noise about conflicted Christendom’s rhetoric to “put Christ back in Christmas” is depressing. Debates over nativity scenes in the public square, a supposed war on Christmas, the gaudiness….I hate it all. I do not like the depression-like letdown after the mad rush of present opening on Christmas day. Christmas is not my idea of “the most wonderful time of the year” despite hearing that musical expression ad nauseum.
When our three children were no longer living at home, Carolyn and I were left behind a few years ago. Released from our previous routine of Christmas-as-crucial-to-child-raising, we enjoyed the empty nest for a few short years by spending the Christmas season doing fun things. One year we went to London for two weeks; we devoted extra offerings to ministries for the poor; I thought we had forsaken bad Christmas and instead thought holy thoughts of righteous separation from the worldliness of Christmas. Ha!
That changed as Amy and her two children moved into our house on Beech Mountain. Sydney age 8 and Davis age 5 gave us a new focus in our home. As part of that, we are into Christmas again with lots of decorations, music, and manufactured excitement. Despite my curmudgeon-ness, my old cold heart is softening. Perhaps it was the 5-inch snowfall we had this weekend and the blazing fireplace. Maybe it is the music and hot chocolate with the added kick. I cannot be sure, but I do feel my old frozen heart melting.
Davis is the biggest reason. He is the first person I have encountered who really epitomizes the “spirit of Christmas”, if there is such a thing. He snuggles really well for one thing, and all grandparents are suckers for snuggling grandchildren. But the biggest quality he brings to the table is his genuinely selfless attitude.
I asked him while we were sitting together in front of the fire, “What do you want for Christmas, big guy?” The question itself exposed my reversion to bad ol’ Christmases past by focusing our conversation on the evil subject of material expectations, something I had sworn off. But he just shrugged and said “I don’t know, nothing” with an air of disinterest, a detachment which I have not seen in the other children in my life. Then, he said, “I want Sydney to have a puppy.”
Well, that just about did me in. He knows his big sister is having a hard time with the family reorganization. He talks with her in privileged conversations only siblings have and he knows how lonely she feels sometimes, and he hears her frequent longing for a dog of her own, a pet to snuggle with, to shower with affection, and talk to. I know he is reflecting his own deep feelings too, but more than anything, Davis wants his sister to be happy.
Davis has spent the past two days with his Gram, Carolyn, working on a special handmade card for Syd. He selected buttons from Gram’s stash and ribbons carefully chosen for color and texture. He picked his favorite sharpies and created a drawing of a house with a door that opens onto the sight of a Christmas tree, decorated in his own artistic style. He thinks day and night of trying to make his sister happy. He is sure this hand-crafted card will please her, and he works hard at keeping his efforts secret so she will be properly surprised. His creative juices are flowing. He is the happiest kid I know as he puts all his creative energy in the special card.
We got Sydney a puppy. His name is Scruffy. I am now in the Christmas spirit (or something akin to it). Davis has won me over. Maybe the sound I hear is the jingle bells in the melting snow of my heart.
Maybe the Christmas Season is not so bad after all. It doesn’t have to be totally disconnected from the Advent, the birth of Jesus.
Note: A version of this essay was written and published in December of 2009.