This evening, my husband and I decorated our Christmas tree, a little fir I thinned from the woods behind our house earlier today. After draping lights and hanging ornaments, we turned off the house lights, sat on the couch, and stared at the tree, carols in the background. A line suddenly stood out to me: “Fall on your knees…”
I have always loved Christmas. Yes, what child isn’t drawn, at least in some way, to the opening of gifts? I’m not going to pretend I was above all that as a youngster. But I will say that the holiday was always about much, much more. My family really did Christmas. On December 1st, Mom pulled out the advent calendar, home made, each day a clue to a hidden something – chestnuts, oranges, a Christmas craft we’d do that day, a Christmas decoration we’d get to put up. We sang, played carols on various instruments, visited nursing homes, packed food boxes, made gifts and cookies and decorations, and read Christmas books with beautiful illustrations. I know, it sounds ridiculously idyllic, but it kind of was. The month of December literally glistened with wonder.
And really, I think, that is what Christmas is all about: wonder. With an Episcopalian minister for a grandfather, I was certainly aware, as a child, of the Christmas story. Although, somehow, in my mind it was always Linus telling it, as he does in A Charlie Brown Christmas, standing under a single spotlight, blanket draped over his arm. A story told simply, not needing drama to evoke wonder. A story of hope for a world in need, of the beauty in community, of celebrating the humble. A story of the power of the innocent and the young.
As a child, I remember being particularly drawn to the fact that it was not just a fellow youngster, but a baby that we were celebrating. The whole world paused to respect the potential carried in a child, to honor that child with wonder.
Regardless of religious background, there seems to be an important reminder in that story, in that act of honoring simplicity, the young, and the humble. I know it is so easy for me, these days, to feel completely overwhelmed by the horrific events occurring worldwide and the incredible challenges we face in the years ahead – overpopulation, climate change, terrorism…and on and on. Hope can seem distant, if present at all.
And then I go for a walk with our dog and watch an eagle circle the pond, or listen to a beautiful piece of music, or look into my niece’s wide eyes, and I see wonder. And it is in that sense of wonder for the world that I find hope. For what is wonder if not a close cousin to love paired with respect? A recognition of what is important. A celebration of what is truly valuable and what must therefore be preserved.
Christmas is a time for pressing pause and savoring those simple gifts that, truly, keep us going in the world today. Because we must also turn our attention to the challenges. We need to move forward with awareness of the truth of what we face, for it is only by fully acknowledging those challenges that we can hope to succeed in finding solutions. And yet, we must balance those truths with the equally valid beauty all around us. This balancing act is something I feel constantly on the farm. Every day, there is hard work to be done. Some challenges can seem insurmountable. But even as we stand in the field with a never-ending list of to-dos, we are surrounded by beauty. Everywhere, every moment, an opportunity to pause, a call to wonder.