It’s just two days until Christmas. This year will be quieter than past years, since our dinner will be postponed until our son and his family return from spending the holiday with his in-laws. We used to have gatherings with larger numbers of relatives, but now we’re in that phase of life where our children have married and cousins have new traditions and shorter visits due to their adult work schedules that replaced long college breaks.
Besides the decrease in the numbers of gatherings, I haven’t baked a single Christmas confection since the adults in the family are on diets and our seven-month-old grandson isn’t eating cookies—not yet. There’s no need to keep working to perfect Christmas—the foods, the decorations, the magical memories because we’ve all moved on to a different place. Part of me feels like something’s missing, but a bigger part of me says, “This is the quieter holiday you’ve been wanting.”
There are still things to be done but I don’t feel the push to keep doing more. What I want this year is time for quiet. This reminds me that my favorite Christmas carol is “Silent Night.” I think the focus on a quiet night in a stable has a settling effect on me, partially because of my childhood growing up on a farm. I love the “all is calm all is bright” because so many times in the past the hype and intensity of holiday preparations have worn me down and I didn’t feel calm.
Over the years, I’ve attended many Christmas programs, worship services, and cantatas. Of all of them, the one that had the most lasting impression was the simplest. It was back when our sons were very young and we were trying to manage the busyness of the holiday while working in our professions. Our small Presbyterian church had a mid-week vesper-type service. The contemporary building had lots of windows that provided a great view of nature during Sunday morning worship but were a blackout of darkness on a December night.
We sat with little inside light and one lone, dark blue candle burning — the focal point of the altar. We sang a few quiet carols to the simple accompaniment of the piano, which was in sharp contrast to the continuous playing of Christmas songs on the radio. The minister gave a homily about our season of Epiphany—waiting with an expectant heart. Inside that room, gathered in that drafty church, the glitzy lights and holiday fanfare of shiny reds and greens that screamed out Christmas was far away. We sat together and watched the flicker of that dark blue candle. I left feeling settled and strengthened, ready to disregard the overstimulation of the holiday and follow the call into the long, hibernating nights of winter.
This year, when our family is not gathered like before at Christmas, I hope to draw into the silence of a blue candle, experience the calm, and breathe in deeply the quiet of the winter night. I want to exhale any trapped expectations from bygone holidays and accept with joy what is.
Whether you’re like me and having a more quiet, slimmed-down holiday or you’re in the bustle of many celebrations, may you take the time to feel the warmth of the flame of that blue candle, calling you to calm and making your Spirit bright.
Peace and Blessings to You All.
How About You?
How have your holidays changed over the years?
What are the things you miss? What are the new opportunities afforded by having time opened in your holiday schedule?