During the holiday season, I often get one of two troublesome feelings. First, I think that the whole month-plus is too hectic and too busy. The season feels overscheduled with events and get-togethers that are good and joyful, to be sure, and which I would probably miss if they didn’t happen. But in my more reflective moments, a deeper sense that something is missing creeps into my experience of the season—as if somehow the purpose of the holidays has gotten squeezed out or eclipsed.
Perhaps it’s because I’m trying to do too many things. Or perhaps it’s because, in the midst of the holiday run-around, I’ve lost my own way. I’ve lost a sense of the purpose of “why” we’re doing any of this at all.
Of course, lots of people have different reasons for celebrating and getting together during the holidays. For the last 15 years, the holidays for us have been a primary reason to spend time with family, whom we only get to see about twice per year. So part of the hectic nature of the season is the travel involved to get us to where our family is. Then comes the time spent in multiple gatherings hosted by various family members, the effort to spend equivalent amounts of time with each family so the grandparents can see the grandkids and vice versa, the many church services that are part of the holiday season, and so on.
Your habits and rituals of the holidays may be different. But I’ll admit that mine are distracting from what I wish they holidays were like. I’m not being nostalgic—this isn’t a wish for “having things like they used to be.” It’s more of an ache to have the holidays, somehow, as they “should” be.
The holidays didn’t come out of nowhere. They exist in our calendar for a reason. They have an historical purpose. Of course, there are various “reasons for the season” that are in competition for our attention each year. But for me, I get the sense that the holidays could be celebrated better. As if in the midst of all the other busyness and reasons for the season that compete for my allegiance (read: shopping), I wish I could be more intentional. But in the end, I just feel worn out by it all. And I doubt I’m alone here.
So how might we try to take back the holidays, if only just a little?
I think what makes me ache about my experience of the holidays is that lack of a connection to their roots. I mean, these things are ancient—they’ve been celebrated for hundreds of years (or longer) and in a wide variety of ways. Thanksgiving, for instance, has turned more into a food-fest than a time to give thanks. It happens so fast, and more time seems to be put into the planning and the cooking (and the eating!) than in intentional thanks-giving.
Here’s an idea for how we might reclaim the thankfulness that seems to be missing (for me, and perhaps for you) at Thanksgiving. Theologian Martin Luther noted that God could simply feed us with bread from heaven if he wanted (this is in reference to a story in the Bible’s book of Exodus), but instead, he chooses to use other people and their work to provide for us.
Consider taking time on Thanksgiving to wonder about all the people involved in bringing about the meal you’ll eat that day. Grocers, transporters, farmers, butchers, cooks, compliance officers, and many more. Whether or not you think God is using them to feed you, they are nevertheless a vital part of our being fed. So give thanks for them. Perhaps this could even be a new tradition for you and yours that you begin this year.
The Christmas holiday is a bit more challenging. For me, Christ is the reason for celebrating Christmas—the Savior of the world was born that day. But there’s so much else about Christmas that easily steals my attention from reflecting on the meaning of the holiday. The food, the gifts, the work parties, the family gatherings, the shopping, trying to arrange vacation days, and more. I think the best thing I can do is to slow down; I can’t reflect when I’m always distracted by the next thing.
Here’s an idea that might help to reclaim a small piece of Christmas. Arrange with your family (or whomever you’ll be spending the Christmas holiday with) to simply decide on one day when you will do absolutely nothing. This will force everyone to slow down, and maybe give everyone something to look forward to as a result.
Perhaps on this day of all days, you can think upon the gifts that you have all around you: life, breath, health, friends, family, meaningful work, safety, material goods, a full pantry, a roof over your head, running water, heat (where it’s cold), devices upon which you’re reading this article, and whatever else comes to mind. Maybe you could write these things down—they might be worth remembering when you’re having one of those days when life is not going your way.
Doing all of this might also become a new tradition. Maybe next year you’ll get more people involved; maybe you’ll share your lists; maybe you’ll find ways to add to your own. But in the end, if Christmas is about the gift of Jesus, then thinking upon all our gifts is a way to recognize that all we have is not our own, but that we are indeed blessed.
I’d love to hear your ideas for reclaiming the holidays. What small traditions would you suggest for others who feel hurried or as if they’re missing out on the true meaning of the holidays?
This post reflects the views and experiences of the author, and is intended to start a conversation. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!
Or, if you’d like to hear some overall thoughts on who Jesus is from Christians at THRED, you can find those over here.