Flip backward the calendars and replay the static-ey memories from sometime in the 80’s and 90’s. A collection of pictures, as in the kind we used to stack once developed from the entire roll of film; posed family portraits mixed among the random and mostly terrible action shots. The dated furniture and décor, strings of tacky tinsel and light features totally devoid of LEDs. Lost-looking glitter winds up clinging onto other ornaments and lines the corners and edges of storage boxes. Felt and patchwork decorations of even earlier decades make their necessary re-emergence by requirement of nostalgia. My childhood is touched by a homey magical feeling of Christmas. My family atmosphere of goodwill is nurtured well. Year after year my sisters and I tend to treat each other better in light of the festivities.
One year, inspired by the season of goodwill, I decide to secretly surprise my sisters on Christmas with some chocolate truffles I buy for them from my own scant savings of money. Days and days before Christmas, what with the premature excitement characteristic of children, I place them in their hanging stockings. It isn’t obvious that the chocolates are waiting inside.
Not too long after this act of goodwill I become furious with one sister. Burning inside with silent embers of retribution, I secretly take down her stocking and I crush those truffles [still inside] underneath the ball of my foot. Immediately a dull feeling of remorse stabs my gut, but I comfort myself in the fact that my sisters don’t even know I had placed the truffles there. Besides maybe she would think it happened by accident.
Finally Christmas morning comes. For many years then and even to now, the sharing of gifts with one another, the leisurely way we celebrate, is a treasured moment of family tradition. In the midst of this moment reserved for enjoying togetherness as a family, I notice my sister unpacking her stocking. Riveted, I watch as, lastly, she draws out the crushed chocolates. Delight transforms, her eyebrows slanting in sadness when she notices the smooshed chocolates. “Oh,” she says quietly, “sad, they melted…”
To me, it seems a small slight to her in light of the day’s celebration, but I hurt. Oh, how it hurts! As far as I know my sister never finds out the reason for the crushed truffles (though perhaps she is about to). And my parents never knew exactly what happened, either (though I bet they had a clue). Though I forgive myself, as I must, for this awful act of anger – I was a child, a girl with siblings, and we fought, as siblings do – still I can feel the pangs of it to this day. It is an indelible lesson to me about regretting rash actions made out of anger. I was and am grieved by the hurt I caused.
As a mother, I not-so-secretly wish for this sort of “uncaught” lesson to each of my sons. When I see them hurt one another, I correct them. But I wonder if their resistance to consequences, and the lesson or lecture I am trying to explain distracts them from feeling the pain of hurting others. Of course I must continue to correct hurtful behavior, as their first entrusted teacher. Naturally I would wish that they always treat each other with love and kindness. I would wish for only good moments for each of them. Within the reality of these un-ideal circumstances, though, brought by the imperfect nature of people, I pray they experience uncaught moments of hurt toward one another. I hope they feel genuine grief from causing hurt to one they love, and feel it early. I hope they know the feeling of heavy remorse, and by remorse they learn empathy, consideration, and forgiveness instead of retribution. That they will learn to avoid the angry choices that hurt. That they will be driven not by fear of my consequences, but instead by love and a will to preserve relationships. That is my hope for them. No consequence or lecture I can deliver is as powerful as the lesson of remorse.
Such a strange topic to choose for Christmas seemingly, but my message is this; I know things are not well. We talk about the magic of the season and we celebrate in joy and all giddiness and materialism too. It doesn’t take a scrooge nowadays to question how we can celebrate so loudly with all the hurt around. People personally are grieving loss and discord in families. Our communities, our country, our world shares grief for our miserable condition that shows itself in destruction and meaningless violence. And honestly, we are individually a mess. We are mean and selfish and we’re just way too far from perfect. Christmastime can look like denial, this audacious celebration among so much turmoil and destruction. In life, there is no good time for pure celebration. But I celebrate deeply nonetheless.
It is like the pine greenery in a darkened room. Unadorned, it is cloudy-dark, obscure, bristling with sharp points. Once fitted with hundreds of twinkling lights, the greenery is transformed into rich hues of evergreen, the needles standing out in sharp relief among alternating shadows and shafts of light, not to mention the beautiful twinkling lights themselves. From the feast of booths, to the starry night skies, from candle- to incandescent- to LED- light, the light is an everlasting symbol for God’s goodness that comes through. Things are not well, yet as Jesus came down, the light came with. Darkness is still around, yet because Jesus came down to us, we may have light among us. First, as a singular brilliant star. Because of what Jesus did, the light may come through in each of us, so many, like the starry night skies. As in the greenery, the darkness is still there for now, but we might become a source of light, giving us the power to transform within and around. To transform us into closer images of who we ought to be. Amid the hurts, it is hope beautiful.
Do you have a special memory or tradition that draws out the significance of your Christmas celebration?