I think that somewhere in a lot of our minds, we have visions of a perfect Christmas that continue to lurk, and by which we--especially us women--tend to judge ourselves.
We, the children, and everybody on our guest list will be perfectly healthy and in a good mood. We will go to Mass at the ideal time in the ideal church and everything will be reverent and solemn and prayerful and lovely. The gifts beneath the tree, whether left by St. Nicholas or Mom and Dad or Grandma and Grandpa, will all be nice, simple, meaningful things that delight the hearts of young and old while not being too materialistic. Christmas morning will pass in a haze of happiness while we sip indulgent rich coffee and eat a delicious brunch before getting a leisurely start to our well-planned, simple, yet stunning Christmas dinner, which will be the joy of everyone who will be seated around our Christmas table.
And while we are cooking, the youngest guests will be playing happily while the older ones chat about Aristotle or Tolstoy and the even-older reminisce about those authentic Simple Christmases they grew up knowing well; and if the weather cooperates there will be outdoor activities, such as sledding to our north and a pleasant walk or an impromptu football game in the back yard for those of us in warmer climes; and everybody will bring a healthy appetite to the table and leave it with a rosy glow of inner happiness (we should just call that dish Inner Happiness Sweet Potato Puff, and be done with it!), and no one will be cranky or disappointed or sulky or moody--and no one, absolutely no one, will be sick.
Unfortunately, life isn’t like that. I’ve been seeing some reports of illness from fellow Catholics on Facebook, as they contemplate having to miss Christmas Mass altogether, or take split shifts with the healthy people. Even when everybody’s well, that ideal Mass may be less than ideal--too crowded, or too far, or too difficult to reach in dangerous weather conditions as may yet arise in some American towns by tomorrow night or Thursday morning. Gifts don’t always please, and sometimes people will buy your kids plastic things with batteries and flashing lights and noise, and sometimes those “people” may even be you, yourself. Christmas morning may be all but over before the coffee or tea kicks in, and there’s nothing leisurely about making a big holiday meal, though it doesn’t have to be exhausting if you’ve done enough of the cooking ahead of time (or if you follow Simcha Fisher’s advice and order Chinese).
The youngest children are likely to be like youngest children everywhere and be overtired and overstimulated and cranky and tearful; the older kids will be hiding or playing video games; and if Great Aunt Ludmila complains one more time about how much more perfectly everything used to be done in her day, you will not be responsible if somebody spikes her coffee with an adult beverage. And even that, you think to yourself as you race to the bathroom with the third-youngest child and a mop and bucket, would be preferable to a sad, lonely Christmas taking care of small cranky ill people with the certainty that you will come down with whatever the heck this thing is just in time for your husband to head back to work after the holiday.
But we’re in luck.
Because the perfect Christmas already happened, and it was the first one. And judged by externals, how perfect was it? The Baby was born--but in a stable, in total anonymous poverty. His mother and foster father were exhausted from a difficult journey. They were probably low on food, too. I bet all they wanted was to sleep quietly, but no--the Heavens burst into song, some rather chatty angels told the locals where to find them, and the locals--mostly shepherds--showed up to see this Child (and probably, human nature being what it is, to give His parents some totally unnecessary but well-meant advice on How to Take Care of a Newborn). When people did show up bearing gifts (possibly quite a bit later), they brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh--gifts of great meaning and significance, but I wonder if St. Joseph thought for a moment, “Now how am I supposed to keep those safe for Him and get it all home without being robbed on the way?” And that’s before we even get to the bit about the murderous insane king plotting to kill Jesus before He was out of swaddling clothes. Amy Welborn said it all, and much better, almost a decade ago.
So how do we have a perfect Christmas?
Accept everything that happens, as it happens. And, most important of all: Make room for Him.
Make room for Him in the middle of the night when you’re tending to a sick child, all your dreams of Christmas crashing into ruins around his tiny bare feet as he races to the bathroom. Make room for Him when you have to go to the earlier vigil Mass at the ugly church ten minutes away because your littlest ones aren’t ready for the thirty-minute drive at midnight yet. Make room for Him when Christmas morning is a wrapping-paper-strewn clutter-fest; make room for Him when something really major goes wrong with Christmas dinner--or when something minor burns and fills the kitchen with noxious smoke. Make room for Him among the slings and arrows of the misfortune of Great Aunt Ludmila’s nitpicking mouth; make room for Him by smiling at the video-gaming teens instead of scolding them for daring to have fun on Christmas.
Make room for Him: and Christmas will be perfect.