I know you’re out there, bustling with everyday stuff on top of non-everyday stuff. Maybe you’ve just shut down your computer and you’re heading out the lobby for the last time in ’17. Maybe you’re headed out the door to drop the kids off at school or daycare, or maybe not at all and you’re sweating as you weave a bulky car seat through the market to pick up the 5 ounces of cinnamon you forgot last night. Maybe you’re visiting your mother at the nursing home, or have a dentist appointment, or just picked the dogs up from the groomers when you spot your reflection in the car window and the exhaustion of it all finally sinks in.
Making Christmas magic is so, so tiring.
Historically, the job falls on the women, yes? Each December, the daily inner-workings of the home multiply into every area possible: more groceries to buy (can you bring that cheeseball again?), more lists to make (move card table to basement), more reminders to set (don’t forget to pick up uncle adam from airport), more questions to answer (henry’s a size 4 in pjs – thank you for thinking of him!). There are messes to clean and projects to manage and the little ones are tugging at your pants in need of scissors to wrap their sweet, beloved (messy/oversized/sticky/oddly-shaped and completely impractical) sculpture concocted out of of Elmer’s and cotton balls. Did I mention the messes to clean?
It’s a lot, sure, even when your approach is ever-simple.
Last week, a girlfriend sits at my kitchen counter and we laugh at how crazed the season can get. At how much more invisible the work is, at how much work it takes to make it all look invisible. Seamless, simple, stockings filled with the snap of a finger. Gifts wrapped, cards sent, neighbors thanked, workers tipped, kids excited, house decorated, families welcomed, fridge filled, recipes found, menus planned, seating moved, music played, candles lit, stories read, traditions kept.
Year after year, like magic.
You always know which stocking is Mom’s because it’s emptiest, we laugh.
I have, in the past, been grinchy about this thankless job. Tricked myself into thinking the work offered little reward, that Christmas had become too intertwined with consumerism and busyness, that we were all the worse for bending to its whims.
But yesterday, I am wrapping a set of measuring cups for Scout in butcher paper, and I tie them carefully with a quiet burlap bow, knowing full well it will be ripped to shreds, paper discarded, ribbon saved for one of Bee’s monumental craft sculptures come Jan 1.
And it feels like the treasured kind of labor.
Like a swaddled secret.
This morning, I sit by the tree with lights I strung, greenery I procured, lights I re-strung after burnt bulbs left the top-third gray and dark, the whole thing of it towered high over the short stack of gifts I pondered, purchased, wrapped.
I read a few simple words in Luke.
Just one line. Just a small part of a bigger birth story, a simple pause that follows a long and grueling labor of love and light, of hope and humanity:
“Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself.“
And I realized there’s nothing thankless about this job, unless of course, we’re the ones offering less thanks.
And so, today, before the craziness of the weekend hits: let’s pause. Let’s make room for pondering and treasuring and holding this all dear. Let’s call it a joy to carry such gifts, to bear them and bring them, to swing the door wide and greet crazy cousin Rita with a smile, to feel a bit swollen and weary and burdened but to make the trek anyway – perhaps not to Bethlehem but at least to the grocery (again).
Mary had Elizabeth to confide in, to share labor pains with, to celebrate alongside. Likewise, we have each other. There is a sisterhood in this all. May we approach it with great joy and great purpose and great, great thanks.
Here’s to filling up those empty stockings – each others, and our own.
Merry Christmas to you, Marys.