Christmas is meant to be magical, right? Starry nights, mistletoe, crackling fireplaces and soft snow falling outside while we are snuggled up under blankets with tea inside, watching It’s a Wonderful Life for the 80th time. And it still is—magical, that is– except that for this “brief” (10 year) blip in time, we have a child in our home under five years old. As a mom, perhaps this is what Christmas looks like for you:
1. Pull out the decorations. Unload and figure out where to them put so the kids can’t pull them down and smash every one. Wish you had cleaned the house before decorating on top of the clutter.
2. Set up the nativity set, Advent wreath, Advent calendar, and Advent book and wonder if you are over-doing it in an attempt to be a Good Christian Mother.
3. Give the kids the Little People nativity set to keep them busy while you put brightly colored lights on the tree (you like white lights, but your five year old won the battle this year). You glance over and see that Mary is in the back of a dump truck with the angels in hot pursuit.
4. Day 3 of decorating: allow the kids to “help” you put ornaments on the tree. Eighty percent of the ornaments end up on the bottom fourth of the tree, though you know that by December 23rd, there will be NO ornaments there.
5. Curse whoever thought it was a good idea to decorate trees with toys that kids aren’t supposed to touch.
6. Advent day 1. Begin the Advent ritual: light a candle, read page one of the Advent Book, move the first figure out of a felt envelope and Velcro precariously onto the manger scene at the top (swatting at hands that try to grab all the other figures tucked into other day’s pockets). Tell kids to stop picking their noses, hitting each other and grab the one year old who is throwing ornaments down the stairs because he likes the sound.
7. Figure out how to answer a tiny person who has no concept of time when they ask you, “When is Christmas?”
8. Do all shopping online from the comfort of your own home while drinking a glass of Merlot in the evenings. You forget about the steep shipping and handling fees, but decide it is still worth it not to schlep three children to stores to shop. Your brothers will get one less candle because of this.
9. Advent day 2 : You try and untangle the theology that mashes up Santa, Bethlehem, the North Pole and frosty the snowman, yet this doesn’t stop you from showing your kids the Christmas cartoons you loved as a kid.
10. You decide not to send Christmas cards this year and feel like a Bad Person. You wonder if you should ask people for their address when they ask you for yours, making them believe they’ll get a card in return.
You reflect on how nutty Christmas with small children is. And yet you remember loving being around kids at Christmas time when you were single. The excitement, energy and wonder is beyond what most adults are capable of exuding. And kids take this ridiculous Christmas story of a young woman getting pregnant with God and they BELIEVE it. They dig into the darker parts of the story we hadn’t thought of excavating. And they draw magic out of the dust, the grit and the grime.
So, yes, this is exhausting, but seeing this season through the prism of small people gives you a unique perspective on a familiar story. It forces you to audibly speak what you believe and why you believe it.
Children escort us through the story of Christmas straight back to Jesus.
Advent whets the appetites of our souls for the Jesus who was born in squalor and later turned water to wine, then thundered from the grave. Advent is the pixie dust we sprinkle on our normal lives to remind us that God was there all along.
Life is not as it seems: a teenage girl isn’t a teenage girl, a star isn’t a star and a baby isn’t a baby. Something within us aches for more and Advent reminds us our ache is not for nothing. There is more–and Advent uses the most childlike among us to bring us back to the sacred ordinary of God-as- squealing-baby lying in a stable.