Let's Chat: Countdown to Christmas


It's nearly Christmas, friends! I hope you're finding moments of peace in the midst of planning and preparations. Do you have a moment to sit and chat? Let's catch up.

Fall Turns into Winter. It's been weeks since I last wrote, and in those weeks, we've witnessed the transition from fall to winter. I'll admit that I'm a purist with this particular seasonal shift. I always wait until Thanksgiving has passed to put up my Christmas decorations, but as soon as we cross that threshold, it's fair game. By Black Friday afternoon, the pumpkins on our front porch had been replaced with pine garland and a Christmas wreath. The indoor fall decor had been stowed away in a bin and replaced with their Christmas counterparts.

Hallmark Christmas movies? Check. Hot cocoa? Check. An outing to the Christmas tree farm to cut our own tree? Check. If there's ever a month that invites you to get comfortable and cozy, it's December.

And the Semester Ends. Of course, the irony about December is that while it invites us to get comfortable and cozy, it's also quite demanding. Over the final weeks of classes, students seemed to be determined to keep submitting assignments (ones that I had assigned, mind you), which then meant that I needed to keep grading them.

After nearly two decades of working in academia, I have an uncanny internal clock that indicates when I'm at the end of a semester. It works the opposite of a sea turtle's navigation system, though, meaning that I become more disoriented when it kicks in. During the final two weeks of classes, I wake up uncertain of which day of the week it is.  My mind becomes like a bulletin board covered with post-it notes with a high-powered oscillating fan blowing on it. Every thought flaps in the breeze, dangerously loose, capable of being whisked away and eternally forgotten.

Even now that my final grades are officially submitted, final recommendation letters have been written, and final emails have been answered, I'm still decompressing. Just this morning, in fact, I woke up from a dream that I still had 96 speeches to grade, immediately. It took a few moments for reality to overtake my hazy dream panic and reassure me that I'm actually done. No more grading for now.

Regardless, despite the hectic sprint to the finish, it was a wonderful semester with wonderful students. It's also wonderful that it's over.

On Gift Giving. Some people are excellent gift givers. I'm not one of these people. I try. I really do. Regardless, my level of gift giving would more likely be categorized as "meant well" rather than "nailed it." I take full responsibility for this deficiency, while also accepting it might be partly attributed to making roughly 700 professional decisions in the three weeks leading up to Christmas shopping. Each December, I think I'll do a little better, or plan ahead, or pick things up along the way throughout the next year.

The reality is that I'll probably mean well again then, too.

On Hallmark Christmas Movies. I'm relatively new to this genre; I only started watching them last winter during the pandemic as cheerful entertainment. There's something to be said for mindless predictability and familiar tropes. Boyfriends of Christmas Past repurposing the premise of A Christmas Carol? I'm all in. A riff on Back to the Future's time-traveling with Christopher Lloyd making a cameo as the conductor in Next Stop, Christmas? My tired mind and heart automatically know that will be an acceptable two hours.

Granted, even my credulity was stretched thin during Royal Queens Christmas when a prince from some country (Estonia?) ended up in New York City on diplomatic duties, but his secret desire was to play the piano even though his royal parents didn't approve of his piano playing. Cue the obligatory scene where he (literally) runs into a regular, entirely non-royal woman from Queens (of course she was carrying and dropped cupcakes during this collision.) After her otherwise unexplained military service, she now was aimless, yet still running a children's choir, but the choir's annual Christmas pageant was at risk because the original piano player had inured his hand, and yada yada yada, two days later, the pageant was saved (thanks Prince of Estonia for covering the keys!), the royal parents accepted their son's musical talents as a welcome diplomatic attribute (Estonians love princes who play pianos at children's Christmas pageants across the pond in NYC, apparently!), and the regular woman from Queens and the Estonian Prince realized that 48 hours of companionship (including one impromptu snowball fight) were enough to smooth over all differences between their diverse life trajectories and citizenship. What else can I say? Another perfect Hallmark match.

So, yeah, that particular plot was a bit hard to swallow, but it won't stop me from watching more.

On Christmas, for real. The church I attend has been running a series on hope. This feels perfect, not only for the Christmas season specifically, but this pandemic-and-strife-weary world in general. As I put my nose to the grindstone to finish the semester and submit final grades, and then as I rushed across town and scoured Amazon to find presents, I realized I still was keeping the idea of the "ideal Christmas" in mind -- the Christmas where everything goes smoothly, everything is perpetually festive, and life is easy.

In reality, I don't believe ideal Christmases exist. There  always will be stressors, small disappointments, family complications, logistical issues, interpersonal irritations, a badly-timed head cold, or, say, an ongoing global pandemic. Toss in unmet expectations (whether yours or others) and years where there is legitimate grief.

Christmas is beautiful, but it doesn't stop life from being life. It doesn't make hard times disappear. In fact, for those who already are struggling, the holiday season has a way of multiplying struggles.

And that's why we desperately need hope. Not just hope for a good holiday season, but deep-rooted hope of God's presence in the day-to-day grind. This is why we celebrate Christmas: Emmanuel, God with us, came to earth to make us right with Him.

Soon enough, Christmas day will officially come and go. We'll assimilate new gifts into our homes, take down our trees, unstring the lights, stow away the wrapping paper, say goodbye to family until the next time we gather, return the sweater we didn't like, and detox from our Christmas diets as we head into the new year. We'll do all of it, like we do each year, because another Christmas will be said and done.

But the reason why we celebrate in the first place?

Hark the herald angels sing, "Glory to the newborn King!"
Peace on earth and mercy mild, 
God and sinners reconciled.

I'm grateful for this unshakable hope. Dear readers, my prayer is that your hope will abound this Christmas season and beyond. Thank you for sitting and chatting!

Merry Christmas!

Back to Top