Christmas celebrations in the Daly household have been about the same for the past few years. We buy each other Secret Santa gifts, we open presents Christmas morning, we go to a few family get-togethers. We’re a pretty ordinary bunch. Money has always been tight, so we’ve never gone overboard with gifts, but gifts have always been a part of the celebration. But Christmas is going to be a little different in the Daly family this year.
A few weeks ago, I learned through a routine phone call home that my dad had lost his job. And as soon as I got that news, I went into instant panic mode. My mom assured me that everything would be OK, but she also told me something that was a little disheartening when I first heard it: we wouldn’t have much of a Christmas this year. No presents for my siblings and me. I had been keeping a running holiday wish list, but I’ve since thrown that list out. A Christmas without presents. What was I to do? I know, I know, that’s not what Christmas is about. And trust me, I felt guilty for getting upset that I wouldn’t get any gifts. But as I write this, I remember another Daly family holiday staple, and I realize that a gift-less Christmas might not be so bad.
I grew up watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas” every holiday season. If you’ve never seen it, here’s a brief synopsis: Good ol’ Charlie Brown has the winter blues because he’s sick of the materialism of the holiday season. There has to be something more to Christmas, he thinks. In an effort to cheer him up, his pals select him to direct his school’s Christmas pageant, and he is tasked with the duty of going to a tree farm with Linus to pick out a Christmas tree. Everyone tells him to pick out a big, shiny tree, but he opts for a little guy with bare branches that can’t stand up quite straight. He brings it back to school, but the gang isn’t impressed and even tells him that he’s ruined Christmas. Poor Chuck is again saddened by Christmas’ seeming emptiness and in desperation cries out, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?!” Cue Linus. Blue blanket in hand, he steps onto the lighted stage and recites the passage from the Gospel of Luke that recalls the first Christmas: the Nativity of Christ. After his monologue, he walks up to his friend and says, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” There’s a bit more to the story after that, but I think that’s an appropriate place to end it.
The true meaning of Christmas that Linus speaks of has never been a big part of my family’s Christmas celebration. I would watch the Charlie Brown Christmas special every year as a child, but Linus’ speech just went in one ear and out the other each time. I might not watch Charlie Brown every holiday season anymore, but my faith has certainly grown stronger as I’ve grown older, and Linus’ message has rang truer with each passing year. Yet for the past two or three years, that message has still been overshadowed by the promise of waking up on December 25 to goodies under the tree. As much as I want to believe that the commercial aspect of Christmas isn’t important to me, my initial disappointment that I wouldn’t receive gifts this year told a different story. I like getting things. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, but it certainly distracts me from what Christmas is really about. Still, while retailers continue to reap the profits of the holiday season, I find that my situation is not too unlike that of Charlie Brown as he laments society’s greed and materialism while searching for Christmas’ true meaning.
My dad had a job interview shortly after losing his old job. As I type this, he’s still waiting to hear if he got the position. This piece will run a few weeks after the interview. Even if he does get the job, I doubt that’ll change much this Christmas. The Daly kids likely will still not get presents. But I don’t mind anymore. A gift-less Christmas might wind up being a blessing for me and my family. Not continuously adding gifts to my wish list and not anticipating what will be waiting under the tree for me on Christmas morning has helped me redirect my focus to what Christmas is really about: spending time with family, practicing generosity and kindness, and, of course, reflecting on the awesome mystery of God’s incarnation. Things haven’t been easy for my family over the past several weeks, and Christmas might be a grim reminder of what we don’t have. But it is also a great reminder of what we do have: we have each other, and we have the care of a God who loved us enough to become one of us. And that’s good enough for me. I pray that it might be good enough for you, too.
In the words of Linus, “That’s what Christmas is all about, (insert your name here).”