"Look, kids!" I announced when they came down the stairs. "Baby Jesus is in the manager!"
"Huh? Oh." One or both of them said. Jesus got a perfunctory glance. "PRESENTS!" Ethan yelled.
You see, I want to be THAT family. I want to be the one gathered around the fireplace while someone reads from the Bible; the one tackling a family giving project and working together patiently on Christmas crafts.
We are not that family, though.
I desperately want my kids to start looking outside themselves and to think of giving to others. Never mind that, I long to live in a less selfish mindset. I know there are all sorts of ways we could translate that into our everyday activities. But getting everyone to participate is like pulling teeth.
We received one of those catalogs in the mail: you know, where you can donate a goat or a cow or a well for clean water and really help people far away who are in desperate need? I wanted to sit down and carefully flip through the pages and think about how we could help people, maybe talk about what it's like to live in other places and without basic necessities. Anna was halfway on board, after she stopped texting her friends. From Ethan? "Why do we have to do this? I want to play Wii!" He listened for about 10 seconds and then asked if we were done.
When you have to beg your kids to care about others, it's just not the same. And it's hard not to wonder what you've done wrong.
Then there's the Christmas card debacle. I love Christmas cards. I love getting mail and seeing pictures of my friends' kids and hearing what family members are up to. I even like semi-annoying holiday "brag" letters. This year I thought I had the Christmas card thing down. I had a picture I hadn't even had to really try hard to take of the three kids, was online clicking away, and had my cards in hand three weeks before Christmas. Only: I had gotten distracted by the kids at the end of designing my card, and in retrospect realized the text with our names was completely illegible.
Feeling stubborn and weirdly giddy that day, I decided we should send them out anyway. What did I have to prove? Our friends and family knew us. Who cared if the card wasn't perfect. First world problem!
That was all well and good...until Christmas cards from other people started arriving in the mail. Apparently, everyone had fantastic luck in the photo studios with their kids this year. I opened card after card of cute smiling kids, formal photos, dressy photos, lots of smiles, and, of course, text that was completely readable.
I began to waver. Could I really send out my crappy cards...my Wal-Mart special...my slapped together Christmas greeting with the glaring mistake that a freelance writer and editor really had no business making?
I realized that I had to send out my cards. Because what's worse than making a dumb mistake? Acting like you're so casual and relaxed about your dumb mistake so you come off as one of those "chill" people, when really you care just as much as anyone about what everyone thinks.
As I filled out my cards, I thought of the families I was sending them to. I wished that they knew I was truly thinking of them and smiling, remembering times we'd chatted or spent together, and that I wished I could write more to each and every one.
I thought about how our family Christmas traditions often seem very much like Charlie Brown's sorry little Christmas tree...full of good intention, but sadly lacking.
Then I remembered that I like Charlie Brown's Christmas tree. (I mean, that's kind of the point of the whole story.) It's earnest; it's true; it's real.
And that I can smile through the frustrated tears...like the ones that almost came because today my older two were acting like spoiled brats and my little one kept trying to pull petals off the poinsettias at church and climb up on the stage while the big kids were practicing their Christmas music.
We are, indeed, all imperfect Christmas celebrators. Not placed here to impress anyone...but to love and be loved. Even on those days when it feels like we don't do Christmas, or anything, right.
Merry Christmas, my friends.