Not much is happening.
Actually, it isn’t feeling much like Christmas this year in many ways.
Weather-wise, winter in Montana during December has been an absolute dud. We haven’t seen a snowflake since October, and the temperature has hovered in the balmy 40s and even 50s. It feels like flowers are about to bloom any day now.
Even though we have a Christmas tree, and the living room smells like pine, the house feels empty. We don’t have kids; no child-like excitement fills the house with energy. Though not impossible, it’s hard to watch Rudolph as an adult in his 50s. Though, in full disclosure I plan on watching Elf and Christmas Vacation later today.
To add to the quiet, we lost both our dachshunds in 2023—one last January, and the other about two months ago, so the quiet seems heavier through the house. There is no tap-tap-tap on the linoleum, no tripping over a waggle of sausage dogs while scrambling to get the house ready, no maniacal barking at the very scent of the UPS guy as he drops off the latest package at the door.
Finally, for the first time in at least a couple of decades, we have literally no major plans for Christmas.
I had this epiphany last week during a grocery run to Wal-Mart. In many ways, this weekly task looked no different than pretty much every grocery run made over the past year.
Except for the fact that the whole world is only one week from Christmas.
There was the typical Christmas hustle and bustle: people getting ready for parties, bellringers at the doors, the chatter of shoppers brainstorming last-minute ideas, Christmas music playing over the speakers.
This seasonal buzz is what makes this time of year so magical: joyful and busy.
Even I had donned my gay apparel: my Santa hat an and a Snoopy Christmas shirt. I played carols on my way to the store. I even got in a Christmas movie beforehand.
However, as I tossed groceries into my cart, the realization hit me that only objective was getting meals for the week—something I had been doing every week in 2023.
It hit me that, unlike the previous last twenty years, my wife and I would not visit family nor would family visit us. Usually at this point of the Christmas season, we would be in the final stages of preparation: either getting the house or the car ready, making travel plans, wrapping presents, planning activities.
But all I was doing was getting groceries.
An emptiness and sadness enveloped me as I pushed my cart through the aisles of Wal-Mart.
I realized how much I need to be around family and friends on Christmas Eve and Christmas day. It goes back to my first job I got shortly after graduating from college. I worked at a radio station in northwest Montana. I was far away from family. Further, my work hours weren’t the greatest, so I didn’t make a lot of friends.
To add to the loneliness, I was the only single on the staff, so I was the go-to holiday coverage while the rest of the staff could be with their families. I worked every Christmas Eve only to look forward to the twelve-hours shift on Christmas Day. My mom would call the station to cheer me up, but all I could hear was the laughter and chatter in the background from her annual gatherings at her house.
Since then, I have grown to abhor being alone on Christmas. I hate a quiet Christmas. I crave needing around family and activity. I have to be a part of the warmth and laughter.
That is why last week’s epiphany at Wal-Mart hit me a little hard.
This Christmas season feels different.
Then again, Christmas—like life in general—is likely to be different every year.
As I worked through the realization of a potentially quiet, uneventful Christmas, it slowly dawned on me that every Christmas has the potential to be different in some way every year. Some might be experienced in a context of loss, others in a context newness. Some might be snowless, others might get buried in snow. Sometimes families can’t get together, other times houses might be filled with love and laughter.
Life has this frustrating habit of constantly changing. Nothing stays the same. Health issues come up. Geographic dynamics evolve. Work responsibilities differ. Traditions change.
Our job is to adapt to those changes.
Christmas might be different this year. It will likely be different next year.
However, the message of Christmas—the very reason of Christmas—never changes. No matter what experiences one brings into the darkest month of December—happy or sad, grief or celebration, loss or gain, with others or alone—we celebrate that God stepped directly into this world to save us from ourselves.
Whatever is going on in your life, may you never forget the one constant in life.
The Messiah has come.
That fact will never change.
No matter what curve ball life throws at you, Christmas will always be Christmas.