We humans are meaning makers. When things happen to us we create meaning around the event or experience. Even when we don't know we are doing it, the whole process is happening. And what we make of our lives, what the events and experiences mean to us, largely determines how we see the world and our experience in it.
Christmas means different things to each of us. We can say the trite thing, "Jesus is the reason for the season" but our real meaning goes much deeper than our words. Meaning is what we live, what we experience in our inner selves.
Some people around me are talking about the nostalgia of Christmases past. These memories are full of innocence, richness, usually lots of gifts or great family gatherings with people now gone. Christmas meant feeling secure and included, safe and celebrated. The usual comment is that current Christmases are not as wonderful.
When new experiences come into our life we have to revisit old meanings and see if the new ones fit. Sometimes we adjust what we have thought life means. In this way our meaning framework is always being tested and revised. We can't always choose what happens to us but we can always always choose how we will understand what we experienced.
My Christmas meaning development goes something like this. Childhood had moments that were dear, my grandfather making pancakes on Christmas morning and the year I helped my siblings finish their paper routes in the snow so we could open presents. But Christmas was also a time of high anxiety as money was scarce. I remember my dad waiting til Christmas eve hoping to get a free tree from the lot, and coming home empty handed. I hear my mother's voice in my head from that moment, "Oh NO!" That was an anxious Christmas for me, picking up the stress in my parents. Over years Christmas became a fearful time, a time when I was unsafe and worried about what our family would do.
The first Christmas we were married Steve and I overdid Christmas. Wildly. It was like getting to eat all the cookies you wanted without having a mother to dole them out two by two. Then came years of ministry where I tried to make a 'Dicken's Christmas' out of our home and lives. I worked Christmas: baking, decorating, shopping for sales, wrapping beautiful gifts, inviting guests.
But slowly I came to hate all of it. I hated all the stress and work and worry and the way Christmas unfolded. I would try to make Christmas morning glorious for the kids, and then while they snoozed or played I would clean clean clean, cook and fuss over the table and at 3 pm guests would arrive and I would put on the big dinner... complete with little gifts for everyone - and I was exhausted by the end. One year I loathed the guests (my friends!!) as they came in for dinner. I had spent myself trying to make the world different than I had known, and I was empty. I thought if I made it perfect I'd feel that safe, secure, loved feeling. I did not. The old meaning still stayed. I could not do enough to be safe.
Of course the pendulum swings widely. I went through a time hating the season. I would say to Steve, "If I had a Christmas when it was the 26th and I said, 'OH! Was Christmas yesterday? I didn't notice' - that would be a good year for me."
I have had to revisit my meaning platform for Christmas. What does it mean to me? Deep down. Deep in my soul where truth resides. I've come to realize my disposition to try to create safety for myself because I don't have confidence anyone else can or will make life safe for me. Hm. I know now that no one can create a safe world for me, but I can live well and gladly without magical safety. Christmas means to me that God is involved with my life. It means my world has shifted from being only cold and only alone to be cold and alone (sometimes) and also tender and rich with life. Life that will sometimes be difficult, and life that will end.
I might not put up a tree this year, because the year doesn't seem to be beckoning me to do that. But I have put out a poinsettia, and candles. I am going to seek moments of gentleness and joy. But if the joy comes with the usual headaches I will be okay. Because Christmas means a promise. Christmas means I am part of something big. Big and sparkly. We have no idea how big, or how sparkly.