I’m not sure how we got to this place with Christmas. How did we get from a holiday that began in a manger with hay and animals to where every room in our house is supposed to have its own decorated tree? Where the shopping for presents for this holiday has nearly eclipsed another holiday altogether? Where it seems that no matter what we do, nothing is enough?
How do we bring ourselves back in to the spirit of Christmas and get untangled from the perfectionism and drivenness that this holiday has come to embrace?
I say, forget the presents and bring your gifts.
When I think about the things I most treasure, the biggest gifts I have been given, none of them came in a box. They were the people in my life being exactly and wonderfully who they were: they were bringing all of themselves to the world—their strengths, their mistakes, their passions, their quirkiness. And I think equally important is the fact that many of the people whose gifts were so important to me didn’t even know that they were giving them: they weren’t gifts given directly. By being who they were, by sharing their love, their light, themselves—they allowed me to experience the day or myself differently.
I had a first grade teacher who had a tremendous gift of understanding her students and the creativity to figure out what they needed. She created the space for me to go the library every afternoon and as a result I have a love of learning (and libraries) that has made me who I am. And I had a friend in high school who was a stellar track athlete—she just shined--and she pulled me in to her track orbit. I had no ability at track, but her ability and friendship kept me in, and the running gave me the confidence to eventually try out for rowing in college, which, at the risk of sounding cheesy, changed my life.
Two summers ago I took a class where at the end of the class we had a talent show. I was skeptical because I hadn’t been in one of those since grade school and yet on the night of the show, I learned again what it meant to bring your gifts. Each person shared of themselves: they played the piano, they sang, they recited ballads—they braved being all of themselves for a moment—and have it witnessed and received. No one was flawless, but they were all perfect. And I carry the gift of their bravery, and my own that night, with me in to every new challenge.
It really can be enough to watch people shine. I loved watching my father-in-law with his grandchildren—he could spend an hour just walking behind my nephew as a toddler—let him walk and explore the forest floor. I love watching my brother-in-law manage his boat—especially when the wind comes up. And I love watching my brother make pizza—throwing the dough in the air and sharing his love of food and the food itself with others. Marianne Williamson was spot on when she said that when you let your light shine you gift others permission to do the same.
Yet, I think when we think of gifts we think only of our bright and shiny selves and not of the parts of ourselves we are less proud of, the parts that make mistakes, or don’t get it right. And yet, how often have we been relieved to hear that someone else has struggled with that problem too? Just this week a friend shared a difficult conversation that she had with her husband and I found myself so thankful: not that she had a hard time, but for the fellowship of humanity she provided by reminding me that figuring out relationships can be difficult—that we all struggle with that at times.
One of my favorite holiday memories was in fact one of my biggest holiday mistakes. I had gotten up early to get two large turkeys in the oven. My mother-in-law had left me a big bowl of onions and celery and instructions that dried sage was hanging in their walk-in entry. I made the stuffing, found the sage, stuffed the turkeys and everyone came down to breakfast. My mother-in-law went in to the entry and asked why I hadn't used the sage. I said I had and pointed to it. Only it wasn't the sage. I had used Artemesia Silverking--a dried perennial that looks somewhat like sage. There were a few moments of panic as we read whether Artemesia was poisonous. And then lots of laughter after we found it out it wasn't poisonous, in fact it was used as an herbal remedy: it was an aphrodisiac.
People don’t remember perfection and neither will you. It’s like going to a concert or an opera – you don’t remember all the words of the songs you hear—but somehow you take refrains of the melodies with you. You remember the colors and the music. So slow down enough to listen to the melodies. Slow down enough to dance with the people who are around you. Slow down enough to hum your joy of the day, and share your song, your love, your gifts with others.
© 2015 Gretchen L. Schmelzer, PhD