How's Your Holiday 'Sprit?'

Since I can't send you each a present during this holiday season, I am, instead, giving you this column. It's one of my favorites.  I wrote it back in 2002 and the year my book came out, it was the one I read to my book club.  As my own eyes welled with tears, I could feel everyone around me welling up, too.  It was my first experience ever with the amazing concept (still to this day, I can't believe it) that something I wrote could actually touch people in that way.

So, the thing is… I’ve been thinking about newborns.
We celebrate Christmas next week.  I tried  --I firmly RESOLVED-- not to let this year’s holiday season become chaotic and stressful.  I shopped early for presents, hoping that I wouldn’t have to go to stores after November 15th.  Nothing robs me of the Christmas spirit more than frazzled and impatient clerks.  Well, unless it’s frazzled and impatient shoppers.  I hate that Christmas music that starts playing in October.  I hate trying to find a parking place and how rude and rushed everyone seems to be.
But the thing is…it’s six days until Christmas.  Our phones have been out for two days.  My parents came to visit and to have their celebration with our kids and I barely saw them since I shamelessly exploited them as baby sitters while I rushed around trying to get something - -anything!--done.  I’m about to have a house full of company.  I’ve misplaced my mother-in-law’s present.  I still need to get some last-minute presents; two strands of Christmas lights have gone out and must be replaced; I have presents to deliver and wrap, cookies to bake, menus to plan and shop for (not to mention cook.)  And everything is taking six times as long to do.  For example, Ana and I made our cards but we haven’t sent them yet because it took me five trips to get my holiday pictures printed and I didn’t even notice there was a typo until I finally got them home.  “May the SPRIT of Christmas be yours.” 
That about sums it up. My Christmas “sprit” was pretty much shot.
I was feeling so incredibly stressed and behind in everything that I developed insomnia and for some reason, at 2:00 in the morning, I started organizing our photos into albums.  I did the most recent photos and the feeling of accomplishment was so great that I started organizing the photos from 1998 when my first child, Ana, was born.
Oh, those pictures captured it all.  There were pictures of my husband and me walking my belly on the greenbelt by our house and pictures of him putting the crib together.  There’s a picture of me asleep, having crashed while reading “What To Expect The First Year.”  I found myself grinning as I remembered how excited and scared we were.
And there it was: the first picture of Ana, still naked on the warming table in the delivery room. 
Pictures of my husband and me gazing at her, and then pictures of the grandparents holding her.  (Since Ana was born during Spring Break, three of the four college professor grandparents were at the hospital when she was born.)  There are pictures of the nurses and of our beloved obstetrician and good friend, Dr. Solomon. 
My mom had four children.  My mother-in-law had two.  Dr. Solomon has delivered thousands, I’m sure.  And yet, on every single face, there is this look of awed wonderment, this quiet happiness.  There’s this calm acknowledgment of having participated in a miracle.  My dad said it best that day on the ride home with my mom.  “There is something so touching about each new life coming into the world.”
It’s been a long time since I’ve looked at those pictures. 
But I found it there, you know.  Right when I needed to be reminded of it, I found the real spirit of Christmas.
Regardless of religious affiliation, it seems to me that every one of us can find beauty in the birth of a little baby in a stable in Bethlehem – beauty in a story of how life finds a way in the most inhospitable of environments.   There is beauty in the hope that is physically manifested by a newborn baby –  each one such a bundle of potential and each one with an endless capacity for love.  Holding a newborn is like holding a ray of light: , limitless, translucent, fragile and beautiful.
Can you picture the barn where Jesus was born?  Perhaps the animals took some of the chill out of the air and maybe in the dim light, the sounds of the animals breathing were comforting to Mary.  Can’t you just imagine the chaos and political upheaval going on all about them and yet, when Mary went into labor, you know nothing else mattered.  (Ana’s birth was via emergency c-section and there were a LOT of people in the room but I only remember the face of my husband and then her shrill cry…)  Maybe there was a lamp or candle so that Mary and Joseph could look at the face of their first-born child.  Maybe it’s THEIR look of wonderment and joy and the dawning of a love bigger than any they’d known that I see reflected in those pictures of the people present at Ana’s birth.
Once again, it seems that I learned a lesson about how unimportant worldly things really are in life.  I feel dumb.  I never wanted the focus of our holidays to be on STUFF and noise and chaos.  When I look back at the Christmases that have meant the most to me, I can’t even remember anything about the gifts.  It’s the way my whole family was (peacefully) together.  It’s the music we played and the carols we sang and the love in the room.  And now that I am grown and a parent, the only things I really want for Christmas are the enchanted faces of my children on Christmas morning and time to spend with those I love best.  I couldn’t buy any of that, even if I tried.  I resolve again not to squander the bounty of love that I’ve been given.  I am so blessed and half the time I am too busy to remember that.
Today, I spent an hour with Jane outside on an unseasonably warm day, digging in the sand box and tickling her toes while I pushed her in the swings.  My cards and baking and cleaning, etc. were waiting for me when we came inside.  But I’ve learned that you have to take your Christmas spirit where you find it.  And that the most meaningful things often come in the smallest packages.
May God bless you all and may you have many—MANY-- moments that fill you with the “sprit” of the season.

(c) Barbara Cooper 2002  

May the blessings of the holidays rain down upon you.  And just in case, you're still not feeling the "Sprit," here's a picture of our puppy.


Love you guys,

PS: The Christmas tree lights won this year.  I have accepted defeat.  Really, I'm okay with it.  As long as I don't look at the darn tree, I'm okay, I mean. It would be childish to obsess over being beaten by some stupid tiny lights, right?

I have been unable to find replacement red tipped bulbs to keep them blinking so right now, I would wager only about 20% of the tree blinks.  Next year, I'm going to pulverize the non-blinkers in front of the others.  That'll show 'em!

PPS: I don't know why Google changed my font size, nor why I can't change it back.  But look at me!  I'm so calm about that kind of stuff.  I'm so Zen!  I'm so eating a lot of fudge!  Hard to be hatin' with a mouth full of espresso fudge... 



Mokihana said…
What a fabulous column, my friend. You have inspired me to really truly get my photos organized during this coming year. In albums even.

Beautifully written column, and you really did capture the sprit of Christmas.
hokgardner said…
Thank you for this. I'm not really feeling the sprit this year, and I needed a reminder to stop and enjoy the little things.

That having been said, I'm off to the grovery store. Keep your fingers crossed I survive.
Unknown said…
What a wonderful column! Merry Christmas!
Ream O Rama said…
Wow! It was contagious! After reading your post I went to WalMart, got a new tire put on AND my oil changed and was out of there in an hour. And lo the mechanics,cashiers and shoppers were all smiling and it was good. Un-freakin-believable. That doesn't happen any day much less Christmas Eve. Wow!
Merry Christmas Barb!
Mrs.Q said…
Maybe I'm feeling it more this year coz there is a newborn, long-awaited and much loved - in our family...Keeping it low-key sure helps, too! And I bet that espresso fudge is also magic. Best of everything to you & yours - peace, light, and laughter in the new year!
Bullwinkle said…
Wonderful column. (Reminds me of why I missed you.) Happy Holidays!
Tiny Tyrant said…
Merry Christmas Barb.