We are coming to the end of Week 2 of Advent and as I write this, I’m reflecting on spending this season without my mom.
My experience with Christmas has varied a great deal through my life. There were the early, childhood years where my focus was mostly on the gifts I would receive. However, Christmas also meant snow, the annual children’s Christmas pageant, and refurbishing the giant papier-mâché nativity that belonged to the church.
The nativity was about 1/3rd life-size and included a camel. Each piece was made with shaped chicken-wire coated with papier-mâché and then painted. Every year all of the pieces would be moved from storage to the parish hall where they would be inspected for damage (there were always new holes to patch), repaired and then placed. I don’t remember now if they were used in the sanctuary or set up in the parish hall, but they came out every year for several years in a row at least. I also don’t remember how long this particular tradition went on.
Looking back on it, the refurbishing of the communal nativity was both an early crafting experience and a way I connected with the story of the nativity. Part of cleaning and repairing the figures included talking about them and their part in the story to come. I still remember the smell of the aging paper, glue, and the paint used to cover new repairs.
Christmas was never the most joyful of holidays in my family. As I grew up, met my husband, and formed my own family I created my own Advent and Christmas rituals. One thing that was constant through all of the change was contact with my mom. We would talk about setting up our nativity sets, her latest sermon, my plans for my daughter’s December birthday, what gifts to get the next generation as they came along, and anything else that caught our attention during the season.
This year I am facing a change in that fundamental part of my life. Mom died back in April and even then, I wondered what the holiday season would be like without her.
I don’t have a full answer to that question as yet but so far, I’m at peace with my life. I spent a week with my Dad helping him get his house ready for my east-coast brother and family who will be spending Christmas with Dad. We got a tree and put lights on it and got the box of ornaments out so my nieces can decorate the tree when they arrive. We put the lights out around the door and Dad made a lovely swag out of cedar branches, holly, and a red bow he saves to re-use from year-to-year.
Going through this process of re-examining and re-inventing a major family event reminded me of Mom’s work around the Blue Christmas movement. Blue Christmas services are way to acknowledge the fact that Christmas can be a tough time for people, especially people who have lost or are losing loved ones, or who are facing other major stresses in their lives that make living into a “Merry Christmas” difficult-to-impossible.
Back in 2007 Mom wrote an essay about Blue Christmas and how it can be used to help people find a way to be present during the Advent and Christmas seasons without feeling like they must be ‘merry and bright’ to fit in. The last thing people who are feeling sad, anxious, and overwhelmed at any time of the year need, is to feel isolated and like they are the only ones who are struggling.
So, in memory of her, I encourage everyone to live into your messy, complicated lives. Don’t worry about being perfect or trying to create a perfect experience. The cat will break the glass ornaments, no matter what you do and Christmas will still come into that brokenness.
You don’t have to be merry for God’s grace to surround and uplift you.
You don’t have to be whole for Christ to come.