December 17th comes. I wake to find an unwelcome cold settling into my chest, but I also wake to feel something else settling in me– the softening joy and light finally taking hold in my mind and heart that tells me: It’s Christmas. I was supposed to feel like this on December 1st. Or was it November 28th? That day when Americans decide the Christmas season can start, when the attics are thrown open and red bows and colorful lights descend into our midst. That day when we are supposed to flip a switch and bring Christmas spirit in full to our homes and our families. But…what about when we can’t find the switch? Where is the On button for Christmas in ourselves?
I’ve never found it. Every year this happens. I’ve been doing all the right things…the advent studies, the decorating, the shopping (if Amazon counts), the driving around looking at lights, the Christmas movies and hot chocolate….but I have never been able to manufacture the sense that a special time has begun. The warmth and joy in the Christmas season doesn’t come when I tell it to. It crawls into my consciousness slowly. Maybe Little Drummer Boy has to play at least twenty times. Maybe the smell of the Christmas tree has to permeate the living room completely for two weeks. Maybe I have to have eighty percent of my shopping done. I haven’t figured out the formula, but I do know that I am not into Christmas starting on December 1st. I do not dig that rule. Sure, I’ll start preparing, because that’s what it takes to make Christmas happen in a family. But when I start to get a certain panicky feeling nine days before Christmas Day because we haven’t yet made Christmas cookies or put the new bows on the porch or made any cool Christmas crafts, I have to remind myself: it’s not too late.
It’s not too late for Christmas.
We are not running behind just because we’ve pinned more than we can ever bake. We are not missing the boat when our wreaths are not made yet. Guess what? Christmas is a day. It’s one day when we welcome our Savior anew and when we gather our loved ones and offer gifts to them because we ourselves have been given so much. I like the idea of celebrating a whole season with beauty and happiness just as much as the next girl. But it’s high time we all refuse to believe that if we don’t start early, we don’t start at all. We have not missed Christmas. Put up those lights you meant to put up two weeks ago. Begin an advent activity on Day 17. Finish the craft you started. So we didn’t start reading Christmas books until yesterday. So you won’t get a tree up until tomorrow. So you can’t feel like it’s Christmas until you’re home the day before Christmas. You’re grieving someone who won’t be here this Christmas for the first time ever? Me, too. Cry on, and as Meg Ryan says in You’ve Got Mail, put up more twinkle lights. You don’t have a Christmas photo this year? Me, neither. You’re in the middle of moving? I’ve been there, and I’m drinking a cup of coffee in honor of you right now. Put on some Christmas music, and soak up what’s there, but banish the guilt.
There’s this day we get to celebrate, and what a privilege it is if we get to stretch it out into more days of celebration. But it’s not a rule and it doesn’t have to be a burden. It’s all supposed to be a gift.
It’s December 17th. I’m going to bake some cookies. I’m going to fold some laundry. I’m going to wrap some presents. I’m going to wash the dishes. And in it all, I’m going to remember, it’s not too late for Christmas.