I can’t believe I’m admitting this, but I’m actually thinking about taking my Christmas tree down. It’s only December 31.
Now I know many folks take their tree down before New Year’s Eve, while still others do the dreaded packing up of the ornaments on New Year’s Day. I understand the thinking behind it. It’s a new year, a fresh start, and a clean slate—out with the old and in with the new, and that means out with the Christmas tree that has become a fire hazard and in with the newly reclaimed living room space. But for me to be thinking about taking down my tree…well, I have to ask, “What has happened to me?”
I’ve always been the poster child for celebrating the 12 days of Christmas, advocating keeping trees up and the holiday cheer going till the wise men come the first week in January to present Jesus with the gifts in which we should observe on that often unobserved day on the liturgical calendar known as Epiphany.
I say “often unobserved” day, for the circles I travel in do not do as good a job as my Catholic or Latino or more liturgically literate friends do in celebrating Epiphany.
I’m trying to bring Epiphany back, but those darn wise men bearing gifts of frankincense, myrrh and gold keep crashing church nativity pageants at Christmastime, reinforcing the belief there was one big party going on in the stable the night Jesus was born.
The thing is the wise men probably didn’t show up until about three years after Jesus’ birth. First, scripture tells us the wise men asked King Herod where they could find the “child” not the “baby” whose star they saw in the sky. Second, King Herod, fearing his power would be usurped by a child, issued the horrible edict to slaughter all male children three years of age and under. And lastly, when the wise men did find Mary and Joseph we are told they entered into the “house” and not a “stable.” And so we have the celebration of Epiphany that comes after Christmas.
But I digress.
It’s only December 31 and I—the self-proclaimed advocate for not cutting short the Christmas season—want to do just that. Cut short Christmas by taking down my tree.
What has happened to me?
I’ve been asking that question all week as I struggled through these days to find some holiday cheer or Christmas magic that those sappy TV Christmas shows tell me I should be experiencing. I searched and searched, but nothing. I even tried to recreate some Christmases past by pouring a glass of eggnog to enjoy with some of my mother-in-law’s cookies that I couldn’t wait to get this year. The eggnog and cookies were delicious, but the holiday cheer I had wanted to fill my heart did not happen.
If anything, the ultra sweet and fattening combo made me more nostalgic for Christmases gone by—and more guilty that I haven’t gone to the gym yet.
I then called my mom and dad to see what they were up to. Perhaps we could plan an impromptu visit. But they were feeling like me—no real energy to do much of anything.
Was it the unseasonably warm weather making everyone blue? I know for my bumbling Bernese mountain dog it was, for her wish for snow—and lots of it—did not come true this Christmas. She did, however, get to enjoy some of the mother-in-law’s cookies. (I pray my vet is reading this for she did have more than one Christmas cookie.)
Or was this bah-humbug epidemic hitting all those I loved really the side effect of yet another infectious bug going around for the hundredth time, creating not so silent nights of nose blowing and coughing?
Could be a combination of both. Or so I tried to convince myself when really I knew the desire to pack away Christmas sooner than I would usually do was something beyond unseasonably warm weather, sad dogs and sinus infections.
Sometimes in life the heart struggles. It is as simple as that. For whatever reason there are some seasons where you have to just feel what the heart is feeling and stop trying to figure “it” out whatever the “it” might be. And definitely make no apologies for where your heart is.
There are times to rejoice that a newborn has come into the world to be our Savior. There are times for the angels to sing with joy and for shepherds to fall on their knees in awe and adoration for what God has done.
Then there are times when there is no star to guide you, no angels’ song to cheer you and no joy in the world to keep you going. There are times when the cross looms in front of you and its burden seems too much for you to carry and you fear it will crush you. But it won’t.
Then there are those times when you just need to pack away Christmas and take down the tree earlier than you usually do.
And that’s okay.
For however your heart might be feeling, this I know for sure. God is right by your side, hearing you ask, “What has happened to me?” and in return whispering His comforting answer, “You’re okay. I’ve got you. Always.”
I heard that whisper on Christmas morning. As I sat high on top of the hill behind our little red house, I saw one of the most beautiful sunrises ever and I could hear God’s whisper mingle with the remnants of the angel’s song of praise “Glory to God in the highest.” It was then I realized even if my heart wasn’t “right”—whatever that means—my soul definitely was in the right place.
There on the hill surrounded by nature’s holiday decorations of dazzling sun rays, glistening frost, heavenly clouds hanging low in the valley and evergreen branches swaying as birds danced on each one, I embraced once again God’s gift of grace and hope and light. The heart will have its ups and downs, its questions and doubts, but God’s heart isn’t fickle. It remains consistent—always loving us through all our days.
It’s December 31 and I will be taking down my Christmas tree earlier than I usually do. What has happened to me? I’m still not completely sure, but I do know this.
I’m more than okay. For while the Christmas lights are coming off the tree the light that matters the most in my life still burns brightly. That is, the light of Christ.
Christmas morning 2015 on top of “Sofie’s Hill” in Vermont. The gift of God’s reassuring presence that I carry with me into a New Year.