I made a wedding cake last week, and I was grumpy the whole time. I was grumpy with it for taking up all my evenings in the first week of a very short December. Normally I love baking, and I love that I’ve been involved in creating so many wedding cakes. But I wanted to be making Christmas happen at my house, and cake was an obstacle rather than an opportunity. To be sure, I got my tree up, and by sheer dint of will there is a manger scene on my windowsill and glitter and lights making my house sparkle, but none of it felt as warm and fuzzy as I hoped. Every year I want the Christmas season to be the same as when I was a child. Not that I need all things to stay perfectly static– it’s more that my fading memory gives me an unrealistic longing for Christmas cheer to be clinging to every feeling and moment, adding luster to the mundane and a warm glow to even the coldest nights.
Instead of this cozy daydream, I am presented with the reality that I’m spending my days chasing a feeling I can’t hold onto for more than a minute at a time. All my work does very little to produce any tidings of comfort and joy. I walk around disappointed because my Christmas spirit didn’t arrive on my doorstep the day after Thanksgiving.
I think I’m starting to realize that the good tidings and the comfort and most importantly the joy are not something I can conjure at will, even supposing I had the energy to do so. More often than not, they are already there waiting patiently for me, if only I will stop my frantic activity long enough to notice them. Maybe I did a lot more stopping as a child. Or maybe I wasn’t moving as much in the first place. I remember cradling the joy of small moments: the pride and delight I felt in being lifted onto my dad’s shoulders to place the angel on the uppermost branch of the tree; the Christmas songs played over and over on the CD player in the kitchen; the steps I traced in my basement as I practiced the choreography for every part I had in The Nutcracker ballet. I was surrounded by reminders of how special Christmastime was, and every year I hoped desperately that I could care for each moment well enough to take them all with me into January.
Now I’m grown(ish), and while I’m doing all the things — the tree, the Advent services, the gingerbread cookies — I’m finding the best moments are the ones where I sit and let Christmas catch up to me. I curl on my couch beneath a warm blanket and I finally remember how each piece of festivity I’ve engineered should be a signpost directing me towards greater things than twinkling lights and presents beneath pine branches. I remember the first manger scene, which I’m quite certain was not so warm and clean and put-together as the porcelain one on my windowsill might lead me to believe. I remember that, praise the Lord, I am not called to a life that is always warm and perfect, but to a life which welcomes the grace still emanating from that dirty, dingy stable. And it’s when I remember these things, sitting on my couch in my quiet house, that I find the good tidings and the comfort, and, most importantly, the joy.