I finished my last paper for the semester at 11 p.m. Monday night, one week before Christmas. It was due at midnight, and it was my fourth and final assignment from this long fall semester. This was my largest credit load yet, with three classes and my fellowship. Graduate school has been very rewarding — I’ve really enjoyed getting back into school — but it has also been challenging. And it delayed my holiday celebrations a little bit. I haven’t time for my usual cookie baking. I haven’t stepped foot in a store to buy any gifts. And although we had friends over for a Christmas party a couple weekends back, I still felt like the season and the magic was escaping me.
For me it was grad school, distracting me from the lights and joy and excitement. For others, it’s something else, like the frenzy of gift-buying, or a grueling job with year-end deadlines, or an illness, or grief. There is no shortage of distractions. There is no shortage of diversions pulling at our attention, demanding we put the wonder of the holidays aside a little longer. But don’t forget to look for the light.
There are just a few days left before Christmas, but traditionally the twelve days of Christmas actually begins on December 25th. So there’s still time, even if you’re rushing around this week, to stop and smell the gingerbread. Listen to the music. Reflect on the year. Say thanks for all the good you have in our life. Pray for peace. Give grace. Create space. Look for the light. It’s there. It’s waiting on you, just as we who celebrate Advent are waiting on Love.
One of my favorite things to do around Christmas is to drive around and look at the decorations and lights. There are a few houses in particular that are famous in our area for their over-the-top displays. One house, on a little circle drive in the middle of a development of single family homes, strings lights up in the trees, sets up a desk for kids to write letter to Santa, and essentially covers the house and lawn in bright, little lights. It’s near the shopping mall, a couple minutes from our home, so whenever we find ourselves in that area at the time of year, we drive the long way home and take a detour, turning left off the main road when the glow from that house comes into view. Another house in a nearby lake community sets their lights to music. Inconveniently located on a tight dead-end street, cars get as close as possible, tune their radios to the station indicated on the sign out front, and watch the lights flash and blink in time to the music. It’s a sight to be seen. I’m sure there are similar displays and creative light shows in your area, too. Take the detour. Get home a few minutes later.
At home, in the evening when darkness has enveloped the world outside, I love to turn off everything except the Christmas lights, get a glass of wine or a mug of hot chocolate, and just sit. This is the easiest thing to do to quiet the holiday clamor. You can play music but you’ll notice that the longer you sit in the illumination of the Christmas tree, the lower you’ll turn the volume because as the hush settles in, what was once quiet will not seem loud. Keep turning down the din. Breathe in the calm. Savor the moment.
I know the holidays are full of lists and rushing and errands and anticipation. The noise is coming in from all sides. We have expectations for others, but more often, we have expectations for ourselves and we’re striving, striving, striving to live up to them. It’s okay to let them go. It’s okay not to bake the cookies this year, even if you’ve done it every other year. It’s okay not to send the cards. It’s okay to skip the Advent wreath. It’s okay to downsize gift-giving for something more life-giving. It’s okay. Lower the expectations. Slow down. Quiet your soul and look for the light.