Was your Christmas less than picture perfect? Then you’re going to love this guest post by one of my favorite writers, Simcha Fisher. (For those of you who aren’t familiar with the liturgical calendar, Ordinary Time is the liturgical season outside of specific liturgical seasons like Lent, Advent, Christmas, etc. The Christmas season just ended, and now we’re currently in Ordinary Time.)
I’m still sweeping up pine needles from the Christmas tree. I don’t mind, because unlike every other mess, this one has a definitive end. Some day soon, I will find and remove the final pine needle, and then the house will be back to normal — back to Ordinary Time.
This year more than most, Christmas was more crisis than celebration. Oh, it was happy and holy, but we also had strep throat and surgery and extra helpings of every type of anxiety and distress that comes with family life. And even in easier years, the sheer volume of things that Need To Be Done For Christmas is overwhelming.
The season follows this structure:
Advent is a time of struggle, when the spiritual and material to-do lists fight for primacy. We do our best to pray and sing, confess and prepare our hearts — but what can we do? Even small presents have to be planned, bought, and wrapped; even simple meals have to be baked. Even minimal parties and concerts must be practiced, bathed and brushed for, driven to, kept awake during. Unless you live in a cave, Advent is an endurance test, especially for mothers. The struggle reaches its peak on Christmas Eve.
On Christmas day, there is a brief island of peace and contentment. Unless you’re made out of stone, you lay down the recipes and white tights and gift tags, and let the song of the angels in. You stop working, and you rejoice.
Then comes a pleasant, buzzing chaos that consumes the house for a couple of weeks at least. It’s a messy but happy time, with new presents scattered in with laundry, candy canes underfoot, and Christmas cards fighting for display space with the normal decor of water bills and exemplary spelling tests.
And then finally comes the day when you can’t stand the disorder one more second. It has all got to go. Epiphany is the Housewive’s Holiday: it doesn’t matter how much we love those colored lights and baubles — nothing makes my heart warmer than to pack it all away, away, away.
And while I pack and sweep up pine needles, I think about what just happened to us. I wonder if we did it right, or if I missed anything.
Christmas never hits me until the season is over. The sheer obviousness of what I’m going to say next may annoy you: Christmas is kind of like having a baby. There, I said it. Baby Jesus being born is a lot like a baby being born. And it doesn’t always go as well as it sounds in the books.
Advent, for instance, is an awful lot like the third trimester of pregnancy: everyone’s gleeful, quivering with anticipation. You know that something wonderful is happening, and you just can’t wait — but at the same time, you feel like hell. You want that baby to come, but you know how hard it’s going to be. No matter how much you meditate on the mystery to come, these days are one part sacred, two parts panicked, and one part just trying not to stop moving — because, like a shark, if you stop, you die.
And the big day itself? I don’t care who you are: no matter how holy or fit or hypnotized or drugged out you are, giving birth is horrible. Yes, it’s worth it. Yes, you chose it, and you want it to happen, and you’d do it again. But it hurts. It’s bloody. It’s messy, and exhausting, and sometimes you almost die. Just like the last week of Advent!
And just like on Christmas day, the birth of a baby will give you a few blissed-out hours right afterward. Eight times, I’ve been absolutely gobsmacked to see an actual little person — with eyes, even, and ears and knees everything, just like a real person — come out of me. This is what I have accomplished! And he is so beautiful. And the struggle is over, and I hear the song of the angels.
I go home, and it’s a mess, but who cares? That same pleasant chaos, that mixture of delight and weariness, relief and confusion, surrounds me and the child. Instead of post-Christmas-day drifts of crumpled wrapping paper and tumbled-together presents and ornaments, the post-delivery house is awash in diapers and receiving blankets, bouncy chairs and rubber duckies — nothing in its place, but all part of a lovely, inevitable disorder.
In those first weeks, though, the love and excitement gradually wear thin, and the weariness, the dampness, and the crumbs take over. Suddenly there comes a day when I can’t stand it a minute longer. No, this mess is not okay. No, the toddler does not like the new baby. No, I cannot go on for one more minute without getting some rest. No, it is not cute that my husband has become a vaguely fond stranger. I don’t care how much rest I’m supposed to be getting, I cannot sit here and let that plant go unwatered for another minute! Who thought it was okay to keep the bagels in the sock drawer? Does it bother no one that the bathroom looks this way? Do humans live here, or wolves? And. . . and do newborns always really cry this much, really?
And something so good has happened to us — so why do I feel so bad?
Well, those are the first few weeks. And then? Slowly, life begins again. That first, fragile period is over, and what do we have? What an epiphany: we have baby. He only becomes manifest to me, it seems, weeks after the birth. And that is when things begin to fall into place, literally (we figure out where the carseat and the crib can fit in) and figuratively (the toddler figures out where the new baby can fit in). Life becomes less of a desperate blur and more of something new, but something good.
It happens. Things comes together. The household slowly rises back to our (somewhat relaxed) standards; the other children come to know and love the baby, and become comfortable in their adjusted roles. My husband and I both reach for the baby wipes at the same time, and the moment is as sweet as the moment we exchanged wedding rings. Sweeter, even: less glorious, but more profound. The crisis is over, and now we get to live with what we have recieved. With every child, there comes a morning when I roll over in bed and realize that the sun is shing. I have slept! I look straight into the face of the little one in the cradle. The face is beautiful. He looks just like his father! I somehow didn’t see it until now, but look: the miracle has arrived.
What do we expect of Christmas? Some blazing apocalypse that will permanently transform us in a hurricane of angel’s wings? Sometimes that happens, but in the day-to-day, we’re not made to live like that — not yet. Yes, the Incarnation is a crisis — but it doesn’t end when Epiphany comes. In a way, that is when it really begins.
If you feel like you missed Christmas this year, it’s okay — the Child was still born. He hasn’t gone away. He’s quietly growing, and perhaps you will find that you have made some room in your heart after all, even if if didn’t happen in a blaze of glory. The Incarnate God lives with us, stays with us. This is the time for us to enjoy Him, see what He is like — and to keep making room for Him as the Christ Child grows.
Read more from Simcha at her blog, I Have to Sit Down.
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