I've admitted to some pretty big flaws here -- laziness, poor parenting, bad fashion sense -- and they usually garner some cyber-nods of identification or some encouraging words. Brace yourself here, because I may be admitting the unforgivable here. People may be tempted to throw some cyber-tomatoes my way.
This year, we aren't putting up a Christmas tree.
Actually, this is the third year that I haven't had a Christmas tree in the last fourteen years of marriage and independent living. The first is probably forgivable by anyone. It was 1997. We didn't have any children. We had movers coming to our first home on December 23rd to pack up all of our belongings so that we could leave on December 26 to drive to our new home in Portland, Oregon. It was the sensible choice, but it did feel a little dreary that December.
The second year was two years ago. I think that the Grinch got me that year. We weren't able to get a tree the first weekend in December, and I just thought, "What's the point?" Kyle was of the age that I thought a tree might create an additional temptation that I didn't want to deal with either. I put greenery on the mantle and I bought a four-foot-tall fiber-optic tree to stand in for the real thing.
Last year we did get a tree and Amanda got the four-foot-tree in her room, and the tree fell over -- twice. That did nothing to root the love of Christmas trees in my heart.
If I had my preference, we would decorate on Thanksgiving weekend, but since we've lived here in Connecticut, we are always away from home that weekend. We also leave town for Christmas, so by December 23rd, we are gone and don't return until the end of the year. This year the first weekend of December was full with Amanda having rehearsal for her Christmas program in the middle of the afternoon on Saturday and then her program itself on Sunday. So I felt a case of the Scrooges coming on again this year. Terry joined in a bit since this last weekend, when we had planned to get the tree, was muddy due to a recent thaw, which would have made cutting down a tree a messy proposition.
So once again, we'll use the little stand-in for a real tree. I also bought a nice big real wreath that will go over the mantle. The stockings will be hung by the chimney with care, but the tree will not be trimmed. We've never done any outside decorating, but the last few times I had gone to Costco, I had been eyeing a particular decoration that I knew would be a big hit with my penguin-obsessed daughter. So on Saturday I made a sacrifice of love and went to buy them as a peace offering to make up for the lack of a tree (those of you who have gone anywhere near a Costco on a Saturday in December will understand what I mean by sacrifice). They were a hit.
I was feeling a little badly about my decision until I went to Bible study last night. The teacher challenged our to-do lists, and asked what they had to do with the birth of Jesus. Christmas card lists that reach into the triple digits are not unholy, nor are decked halls, or beautifully wrapped gifts for every person you love. But I do believe that Jesus does not want the holiday lore and tradition to steal our joy. A Christmas tree would have been a burden on my soul this year, so I'm glad I chose to do without. I'm hoping that next year we'll be able to visit a Christmas tree farm, select and cut down our own tree, bring it home and trim it while listening to Christmas music, and adore it for at least three weeks, before we have to take it down, get it out of the house, and box up all the trimmings and return them to the attic.
I have incorporated a couple of new things into the season this year. The kids and I are enjoying this special deluxe-edition of Olive, the Other Reindeer. It's such a cute story. Nine-year-old Amanda enjoys the wry story as much or more as three-year-old Kyle. There is one pop-up at the end and a few flaps that lift, and even two scratch-and-sniff pages. They are all quite durable, which is not always the case with flaps and pop-ups.
I had heard about Joni Eareckson Tada's series of books called Hymns for a Child's Heart on a Family Life podcast a month or so ago, and when I investigated, I saw that they have a Christmas hymn book. I had hoped to faithfully share a thought from them each morning with my children, and sort of have a hymn of the day. I haven't been that consistent, but the CD is a nice recording of the standard version of the songs we know and love (Amanda doesn't like some of the modern twists on my newer CDs because she can't sing along). Christmas Carols for a Kid's Heart explains the spiritual meaning and doctrine represented in these hymns on a child's level. I highly recommend this book for the season, or some of the others if you want to incorporate the study of hymns into your home, which have almost become extinct in some of our churches. If you want to hear more about what we might be missing out on, listen to Joni in the two twenty-minute podcasts.
The second thing I bought just for myself, hoping to focus in on Jesus and enhance the study of Matthew that I'm doing this year in BSF. Again, I have not been as consistent as I had hoped, but I will continue studying Immanuel: Praying the Names of God through the Christmas Season beyond the Christmas season.