Now that Andy Williams is singing about how it's the most wonderful time of the year, I've been hearing the inevitable talk about the stress of the season.
This sort of discussion isn't always overt. It can be wrapped up discreetly in a conversation, for instance, between those who adore the Elf on the Shelf tradition in their homes, and those who think the Elf is an over-the-top energy-suck brought to us by the Pinterest Generation.
The pressures of holiday expectations can be hidden in a lament about not having one's Christmas tree up yet, or a whine about needing to send out greeting cards. It can be stressing about shopping, or cooking a big holiday dinner, or figuring out gifts for the neighbors/teachers/bus drivers/friends.
In years past, I was the one of the stress cases. Christmas was busy and anxiety-producing for me. I felt I had to keep up with the Ambiguous Standards of Christmastime, which is really dumb because the whole point of Christmas is peace and joy, which is by definition the opposite of stress and anxiety.
I've been evolving recently to a place of :
1) Not caring what people think about the way I keep the season.
2) Not kowtowing to outside pressures to be busy! and amazing! and Pinterest-worthy!
3) Not wondering if the way we do Christmas is good enough.
May I just say that the path to not caring about expectations is so completely fabulous? Because it is. It's like jumping on a tube and flying down a snowy hill with icy powder invigorating your face. Not stressing is beautiful!
What (you may be asking yourself) was the reason for my switcheroo? I'll tell you.
In the twelve months leading up to this Christmas, my third son was diagnosed with Autism and anxiety.
We went from a family with one special-needs son, to a family where half the children have special needs. During the past two years, my son's behavior went from normal and unremarkable to worrisome and extremely difficult to manage.
We have two boys on the spectrum now.
Both boys have other diagnoses as well. It's nothing that I haven't discussed on the blog before; it's our reality. We have come to terms with these challenges and begun to move forward. We also still face a lot of daily difficulties.
It's both the big picture of what our family is and the daily challenges that we have that have changed Christmas for me.
This week I dropped off dinner to a neighbor with terminal cancer. Her Christmas tree was up, but only partially adorned because she lacks the energy to finish it. She had had a rough day---on a string of many other rough days. Seeing her hardship and her gratitude amplified for me the lessons I've started to learn this year.
The behaviors and the diagnoses--they have been God's gift to me this year. It might seem counterintuitive but it's not. In the learning and accepting and adjusting to difficult things, I figured something out:
Christmas is remembering that Jesus was born and lived and died.
That's all it is.
And it actually is everything.