Christmas joy...or Maybe...Christmas Guilt

Reading Time: 4 mins

I didn’t see Christmas as a gift given to me to enjoy, I saw Christmas as a long list of expectations I needed to hold up to love those around me.

I lie in bed and the glow of the Christmas lights from my window plays across my face in the otherwise darkened room. It was hard to sleep with the excitement building for Christmas, and when sleep didn’t come as fast as I would have liked I poked my head in my brother’s room to see if he too was still awake in bed. We succumbed to our curiosity and creeped down the hall, to peek around the corner hoping to get a glimpse at what mom was busy at work with…

We, with our tip-towing and socked feet felt so quiet and sneaky. But those hushed giggles were always louder than we thought! Mom was quick to call us out, however we would get that glimpse into the kitchen we were hoping for! Then she would shoo us back to our beds.

We hoped we would get a look at an exciting present about to be wrapped, but mom was too smart for that. She would make sure we were asleep before the gifts came out. Or, if she was wrapping presents, I would only stumble across something for my aunt or uncle. What I often remember catching her doing was writing Christmas cards. Not on a computer typing away at the letter that would go out to everyone. This was before those days… No she was hand writing out letter after letter. Writing Christmas cards was important to my mom. Keeping up with friends throughout the years was something she prioritized. Catching her in the quiet of the kitchen with a pen in hand was not the type of thing my brother and I hoped to stumble upon…. So boring…. But as an adult it’s a memory that has stuck with me.

Now I’m the adult preparing for Christmas…. I’m the one shushing my kids and sending them back to bed. Strategically planning where to hide the gifts and when to wrap them. I do the menu planning and coordinating everyone’s schedules with the concerts, events and church services.

The kids can’t wait…. But me…. I need more time!

I love Christmas, I love the food, the gatherings, hearing my kids practice Christmas songs on their instruments. I love the presents and services at church. I love talking about Christ coming and the Christmas story.

I love it… so why do I feel so tired… so guilty….

Christmas was approaching and I felt tired and angry

Those feelings bubbled to a head one Christmas, my little ones running around and baby in tow. Christmas was approaching and I felt tired and angry. “What is wrong with me? I love Christmas, why am I snapping at my kids, why am I irritated at my husband? All I want to do is go to bed wake up with the work all done!”

I sat down to clear my head, I aired my frustrations with God. This was supposed to be about celebrating his good gifts after all, “Why is it so hard, God!?!” I looked at my expectations for the season, I felt the pressures that came with it.

Everyone has pressures that come from the outside at Christmas. I had my family’s tradition’s, my husband came with his family’s traditions, then came the expectations from church, and I added in my own hopes with new traditions I wanted to try. On top of that, everyone started doing “Elf on a Shelf” and I thought “I can’t do this!!! I am busy enough cleaning up my own mess!!! Why would I want to create a scenario where I am now coming up with a new situation each evening and then cleaning up that mess!!!” (Props to all of you that find joy in this!)

I drew the line… I can’t do it all! Or, at least not well!

As I worked through my anger I realized something… Christmas had become law to me. I didn’t see Christmas as a gift given to me to enjoy, I saw Christmas as a long list of expectations I needed to hold up to love those around me. I was afraid of not keeping my husband happy, afraid of letting my kids down, and afraid of disappointing myself.

Christmas and all its pressures had become a weight on my shoulder’s that was too much to bear. As we humans often do, I tried to carry it until it started breaking me. And that is when the gospel flooded in to rescue me once again.

I didn’t see Christmas as a gift given to me to enjoy, I saw Christmas as a long list of expectations I needed to hold up to love those around me

Christ came to deliver us from the law, our guilt and our sin. Christ came at Christmas so that we can enjoy the gift of him fulfilling the law on our behalf. He humbled himself and endured all things we humans struggle with so that I can have the gift of freedom in the cross.

Christmas is a gift given to me and my family, it is a time when we rejoice and celebrate the birth of our savior. It’s a time we slow down and remember how thankful we are that no matter what comes the next year, or even in the current Christmas season, that God trampled sin and death. He’s called us to remember the hope of new life, the freedom of forgiveness and the hope of eternity with Him where he will wipe away our tears and pains and suffering will be no more.

That Christmas I sat with my husband and confessed my struggle. We worked through our Christmas expectation’s and what it would look to celebrate Christmas as a gift given rather than a list to uphold.

I thought of my mom, writing her cards during the season. She didn’t write cards out of guilt, she hand wrote those cards because she loved the people she was writing too, and she loved that she got to do it. I’m sure it was hard some times and years she didn’t feel up to it. But I knew it was born out of loving her neighbor and not trying to uphold the law.

I wondered what am I doing out of expectation? What really matters? What do I love? Where are places I’m feeling guilty that I have no reason to feel guilt?

How does the gospel set us free and how do we get to celebrate the joy of Christmas as a family with Christ at the center?

Each Christmas I need this reminder. I need to start the season remembering the birth of Christ and not waiting until the end.

As I enter this time, the season is still busy, there are days I wish there was less wrapping or more hands to help with the cooking. But there is so much more joy in approaching the season without turning the gospel’s good news into a performance anxiety that comes from a theology of glory! We have the freedom to celebrate and do the activities we love together, along with the joy it is to love our neighbors and to cut out the things that don’t matter as much. We have the freedom to let things go or add things in. We can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that even if “the things” don’t get done, Christ has still come. The gift of Jesus is always there to be remembered no matter how we celebrate it. 

Ephesians 2:7-9

In order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.