The Christmas tree was up. The stockings were hung. The nutcrackers, the reindeer and the gingerbread houses were on display. Yet I knew something in my home was missing. And it wasn’t just the candy the kids had eaten off the gingerbread!
Atlanta had miraculously seen its first snow. Amazon had delivered enough boxes to clutter our closet floor. Our ceramic nativity scene was propped up below our TV. Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something had gone missing. And I didn’t trust the Amazon tracker, which told me otherwise: All items were delivered.
I placed the Advent wreath in the center of our kitchen table. We lit the candles nightly. How convenient there were four candles for each of our four children to light one and adore! But the kids fought to blow theirs out first as we sent our prayers to heaven — and judgment of our sibling squabbles to The North Pole! Even then, I didn’t feel our Christmas preparation was complete. With all the build-up to Santa’s arrival, I began to reason, it’s hard for the birth story of a baby in a barn to compete.
With Christmas just days away, I knew my heart wouldn’t be whole if I didn’t do something about it. So I did more. I took an Amazon box and recycled it — into a manger scene. I failed to find black construction paper for a night sky. So in a rush to finish it, I remembered I had saved my son’s city skyline drawing on black paper from school. Perfect! It’s Bethlehem in Atlanta! This time, I put Christmas outside our front door. This will be brilliant, I told myself. The kids will finally understand and appreciate the true meaning of Christmas.
I wanted to make it a moment, a big reveal! I decided to surprise my children with the new outdoor display. I snickered inside as I plainly told them it looked like a new package had been delivered. As they ran out the door, I thought, now my heart would be full. I recorded the memory, convinced the kids would be wowed. That this is what my heart needed to heal, to feel like Christmas was coming!
At first, it felt like it was working. My 22-month-old son, my youngest, was in love at first sight, pointing at each puppet, picking up the baby and wanting to help me turn on the battery-operated candle to give the baby a night-light. But then, my heart dropped. The older three took one look and walked away. By ages seven, five and three, the light of Christmas had already faded, I began to fear.
Once again, that nagging feeling crept back. Christmas had lost all its meaning. It felt too packaged by Amazon, too choreographed by movies and by Mom, too commercialized by every store. I didn’t feel I had the power to change it. How could Christmas possibly be Christmas again?
But then Christmas came. And it came in the most unexpected way.
For weeks, I had been worrying myself sick — as moms do — about one of my children. I had begun to think, despite my best efforts, I had done everything wrong as his mom. That I had created his frustrations rather than foster his natural happy outlook on life. He was suffering, and our relationship was too.
Just when I’d lost all hope, he came to me unexpectedly. “Mom,” he said, holding a star ornament he’d made out of clay at school, “We need to put this star on the manger scene.” The manger scene, he was trying to tell me, wasn’t complete. Then he ran to get a piece of wood and a nail. I followed him with eyes of wonderment. He attached his star to the top of the box with his handmade wood-and-nail contraption. It stuck.
Miraculous is the only word to describe how it felt to watch my son hang his own star on this outdoor nativity. In that small moment, our relationship, our love for each other, was rekindled. I needed that miracle, that sign that Christmas is alive and well. For Christmas, I learned, is the love born in our hearts for all; the joy born in our gatherings with family and friends; the peace born in the stillness of the night as I write this and my son sleeps.
Turns out, it was Mom that needed a little reminder. Yes, Christmas is the light born in each of us. We just have to remember to turn it on.
(Sorry, Amazon, but this you can’t deliver.)