"Merry Valentine’s Day?"
I had a big epiphany this December that sounds sacrilegious but I think is one of the most spiritual “ahas” I’ve ever had. For me as a Mormon mother, Christmas is one of the most stressful times of year. There’s that whole Santa as a Trojan horse trying to hijack the holiday from Baby Jesus; there’s trying to buy presents that people will enjoy without going bankrupt or spoiling kids too much; there’s the whole “it should all be about service and what am I doing to serve” guilt; and on and on.
So one night as I’m getting the advent box together, putting Christ based scriptures in each of the 25 boxes along with enough candy to keep the kids excited about the whole thing and feeling awful that it’s already December 6th and we haven’t even begun to get the Christ in Christmas, I start to realize how ridiculous I’m being. Just as I am cramming a scripture reference and 4 mini Twix into a 2×2 cubby, I am similarly trying to cram our Christianity into one month of the year. By going so nutty about keeping the spirit of the holidays, I am forgetting that we actually spend a good deal of the entire year celebrating Christ: we pray over our food, we pray at bedtime, occasionally we read scriptures, we go to church and we drag the kids with us to home and visiting teaching. My kids know who Jesus is and that their mother has faith in Him. What the hell is wrong with being excited about Santa and getting goodies from neighbors and singing non-religious holiday songs like “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas”?
The conclusion I came to is there’s room in the stable for Rudolph. In fact, I think the secular mythologies that surround religious holidays don’t have to be antithetical. For the rest of the holidays, I felt so much freer to just enjoy the season and not try to constantly “stay on message.” I brought religious books to read to my 11 year old primary class, but I also brought in a game to play that had absolutely nothing no doctrinal value and made no attempt to justify it. This is not to say I didn’t have my struggles with balancing the sacred and secular. But when I found my yuletide panties getting into a bind because St. Nick was taking over, I thought about that poem Emily Dickinson wrote about keeping the Sabbath at home as opposed to attending church. In the final stanza she observes:
God preaches,–a noted clergyman,–
And the sermon is never long;
So instead of getting to heaven at last,
I’m going all along!
I like that notion; it reminds me of “line upon line.”
In short, I surrendered to the season and experienced many moments of peace and joy. I was surprised when the highlight for me, like so many kids, was opening a present on Christmas morning. I had no idea what to expect when I unwrapped the box from my mother with a tag on it that said, “To Heather, Love Mom & Dad.” As my father had passed away in March, I assumed she’d just written both their names out of habit. Inside were my dad’s favorite spurs. The leather was scraped from wear and the silver dull from dust that still clung to them. It was like a gift from the grave. Inside was a note: “Dad hoped one of the boys would share his love of horses and riding. When that didn’t happen you fulfilled his dream. It was a sad day when he had to ‘hang up his spurs.’ Keep the dream alive.” Those sweet words were such salve to me; they acknowledged the pain of never feeling I measured up, but that I also gave something to my father of immeasurable value. Grieving is a process, and on Christmas morning I felt a piece of my heart mending with that gift. What a blessing to receive.
As I reflect on the holidays I am heartened that I can bring that spirit into our everyday lives. This December I decided not to make cookies for friends and neighbors. I could have, but only at a great cost to my family. So instead, the kids and I are planning to make Valentine’s cookies. As I see it, we are bringing Christmas into February. A heart is as easily a symbol of God’s love as a star. My 7 year old said she wished everyday could be Christmas. I’d like to think we are trying.