12: Christmas Time

12: Christmas Time

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Christmas

Christmas Time

Gifts of time and love are surely the basic ingredients of a truly merry Christmas.

~Peg Bracken

I remember looking forward to Christmas with great joy when I was a child — the presents, decorations, special foods, the story of Jesus’s birth, Christmas carols. In my early adulthood I remember Christmas as a fun time spent with my parents and brothers. And when I got married at twenty-six, my husband, Owen, and I set about making Christmas a great holiday for the two of us. Even though there were challenges adjusting to the expectations of each other’s families, we enjoyed the season.

Then, after seven years of marriage, our daughter Rosemary was born, and with her came the fun of Christmastime with a new baby. Three years later, Ryan joined our family and Christmas was even more fun. Together we picked out and decorated our Christmas tree. We hung stockings by the chimney, we read Christmas stories and spent Christmas Eve at my parents’ house with my family.

Then, something changed. Maybe it was because I felt that I was the person in charge of making Christmas happy for everyone else. Maybe I started dreading the season because of a relative we felt obligated to invite at Christmastime who brought with him criticism, arguments and bad cheer. Maybe it was because gift giving with some family members felt meaningless, especially since we mailed presents all across the country to relatives who seldom spoke to each other during the year. Maybe the culmination of many long Minnesota winters was weighing me down. Whatever the case, instead of being a season of happiness and joy, Christmas loomed ahead of me not as a wonderful holiday but as an event that threatened to overwhelm me.

When Owen and the kids asked me what I wanted for Christmas eleven years ago, I had reached my tipping point. “I don’t want things,” I said in despair. “What I want is to get things done.”

I could see the looks of confusion on my kids’ faces. At ages five and two, I’m sure they could tell that I was sad but likely didn’t understand why. I wish I could have simply given them a list of things to buy me, but what I wanted didn’t come from a store. What I wanted was help getting things checked off my never-ending to-do list.

On Christmas morning, Owen handed me a carefully wrapped box. “This one is for you,” he said. I did my best to smile as I started to unwrap the package. Inside, I found one of our household clocks wrapped in tissue paper. “Our clock?” I asked, puzzled.

“Open the card,” was Owen’s reply. The kids leaned in close as I opened the envelope. Inside I found a card that Owen had made on our computer. There was a Christmas tree on the front and inside was a poem written by Owen in which he wrote that he was giving me a gift of time — a whole day of his time to paint our bedroom and help make our new house feel more like a home.

I started to cry, but these were tears of happiness. “Thank you,” I said, wiping away my tears as Owen and the kids hugged me. By some miracle, Owen knew exactly what I needed for Christmas that year — the gift of his time.

Come January, when the decorations had been put away, we bought the green paint I had picked out months before. Then Owen took a day off from work and arranged for my parents to watch Rose and Ryan. The two of us set to work painting our bedroom. Weeks later, with the snow melting and green grass starting to appear in the yard, I looked at my freshly painted room and realized the color we’d painted our walls was not just the spruce-green of Christmas trees but also a color that reminded me of the freshness of spring.

That gift of time was a turning point for my family and me. It’s not as if Christmas was magically easy and stress-free from then on, but each year I have found more joy in it, and as a family, we’ve made some changes to the way we approach the season and the way we give gifts. We still make our favorite Christmas foods and decorate, but I am much less concerned about things being just so. We still celebrate with my family but we decided that it was okay to tell that one grumpy relative to visit at a less stressful time of the year.

And somehow, without much fuss, each year we stand in awe as we light the tree and declare that it is absolutely perfect. The best tree ever! I feel less stressed about finding perfect gifts now and more joy in listening to Christmas music and spending time with family. Instead of shipping gifts across the country, we donate funds in honor of family members through our church’s alternative giving fair. We still buy gifts for our close family, but we also make a point of giving gifts that involve time — like taking my brothers out to lunch at our favorite restaurant or going to a Christmas concert together.

The gift of time is something we can all give. Maybe it’s setting aside an hour or two one evening to play a board game with family or taking a friend out for coffee. Maybe it’s helping someone do errands or watching a young couple’s children so they can go on a date. Best of all is the fact that the gift of Christmas Time can be given and received all year long.

~Myrna CG Mibus

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