“If we were going to chart a course toward a more meaningful Christmas…we would need to do it together.” Photo: Dmitriy Shironosov
I could barely breathe as I knelt down to calm him. The tightness of my skirt and the fullness of my belly from the big meal made bending at the waist a dangerous endeavour. An untimely visit from the ghost of Christmas past wasn’t helping much either.
“If you don’t come home to bed, Santa won’t be able to come and give you your presents,” I pleaded. The words came out in a disingenuous tone that made me feel deeply ashamed. After a whirlwind evening of cooking, churching, gift-wrapping and visiting, I had little energy for the cajoling now required to get my two year-old back home and into bed.
Joseph didn’t want to leave our neighbour’s house. He was engrossed in the “pre-Santa” Hot Wheels race car track he’d just opened. The lies we’d all told to explain how the gift had miraculously arrived before Christmas day-before Santa’s sled and tiny reindeer had even taken flight-were mind-boggling. As I studied my son’s quizzicial expression, I could feel a deeply cynical force grab hold of me. I became acutely aware that the spirit of my late father had entered the room.
For years, my dad had struggled to celebrate an authentic, scripturally grounded Christmas. In the end, he gave up, abandoning Christmas altogether and opting to watch from the sidelines. As a child, I took his rejection to heart, feeling I wasn’t worthy. But as I grew older, I came to understand that his denunciation was part of a much bigger frustration. Now, the reality of walking into this parallel universe brought out my own feelings of anger and disillusionment. I had not anticipated that my father’s disappointment would become my own, and I was not prepared.
My head was spinning as I motioned to my husband that it was time for us to leave. Hopped up on sweets, my son was high up on an emotional ledge. Even Santa could not have talked him down. I managed to get his unyielding little body into the car seat and strapped him in. “God-damn-it,” I muttered under my breath (or so I thought). “God-damn-it,” he parroted back. It was Christmas Eve and the only thing I’d managed to teach my son about God was how to take His name in vain.
It was 11:00 pm by the time I tucked Joseph into bed. There was at least two hours of gift-wrapping left and the unthawed turkey in the laundry tub beckoned me to come bathe him, freezing my fingers and forearms to the bone.
My husband was downstairs making our son’s dreams come true. I thought about giving him a hand assembling the beautiful train set but I had nothing left to give. Putting together the perfect Christmas had left me spiritually drained. I had failed miserably at bringing truth or authenticity to our celebration and I wanted Christmas to be over before it had begun.
I made my way downstairs and found my husband poring over the instructions that came with the train set. He had a cup of freshly brewed coffee and was settling in for a Christmas Eve all-nighter. Standing in the doorway, watching him work, I felt the spirit of Christmas present take me by the hand. There was a choice to be made and the best one was right in front of me.
I knew that if we were going to chart a course toward a more meaningful Christmas-one that would eventually strike a balance between cultural and spiritual forces-we would need to do it together. Standing on the sidelines was not an option.
And so, with a heart full of hope for all the Christmases yet-to-come, I knelt down beside my husband and asked, “Do you want a hand with that?” He nodded and passed me a tiny Allen wrench. I took a sip of his coffee and together, we got to work.
Michelle Hauser is manager of Annual Giving for the Anglican Church of Canada.