Merry Christmas

By Ann Fontaine

Christmas has officially arrived at our house with the ritual of the breaking of the ornament. Bearcat, one of our 2 cats, performed the rite this year. We have had many cats, all strays left by people who think that it is a good thing to leave their unwanted kittens a half mile from town. I think our gate must have a sign that says “good food, warm beds, nice man” – like those codes left by hobos in The Depression. My husband is a softy when it comes to these orphans – we currently have 2 indoor cats. But that is a different story – back to Christmas.

Every year while our kids were still home we would try to provide the imagined perfect Christmas and desire-of-the-heart presents (of course that desire seemed to change up to the moment of unwrapping). This drama would find its peak when one of the children would drop a glass ornament, yet another piece of family history would shatter on the floor and I would break down into the screaming mother.

I remember the years of my childhood Christmases as dinners at a rich relative’s home with more silverware (and it was sterling!) than we knew what to do with and terror at using the wrong fork. Every Christmas morning I awoke hoping for that pair of cowboy boots, but received another doll or doll accessory. Now, as an adult, I know that the relatives were just trying to give us a lovely party and my parents were trying to figure out what to give the alien who had been left on their doorstep.

Ordination freed me from the Christmas nightmare. Now I am excused from all the family duties so that I can be attentive to my work! Sinking into the preparations and rituals of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, I began to look forward to Christmas. All our kids have now moved into their own homes and hopefully into their own less dysfunctional Christmas celebrations.

Last week Jim and I hiked up the nearby canyon and cut a tree, I decorated it with the lights that flash in 8 different patterns. The ornaments consist of everything from a Santa that was given to my husband in 1940 to gifts through the years to ones made by the kids in school and church. I put the old glass ones up high, but obviously not high enough. As I heard the smash of glass scattering into the mix of fir needles and dust bunnies, I thought, “Ahhh – now it is Christmas.” Sweeping up the fuchsia colored shards and needles so we don’t have to give the vacuum cleaner hose one more tracheotomy (duct tape is your friend), I found that I had come to a new place about Christmas.

The Holy comes to birth in the midst of the chaos of life, telling us that life is worth living. Much like finding the Holy Family in the middle of those wildly overdone yard displays with Rudolph, the Grinch, Disney-fied classics and the latest cartoon favorites, the Christ child comes into our lives once again.

Recently, I presided at funeral for a man who carried this anonymous quote in his wallet – “It starts at a time called birth and continues until a time called death. It is called life. It comes with no guarantees of 60 years or 60,000 miles whichever comes first, and somehow they’ve even left out instructions. All we get is life itself and it’s up to us to do the living.”

So DO the living – it’s about love and presence (not presents). Give thanks for gifts as signs you are loved not as judgment on the givers or on your essential being. Don’t worry about using the wrong fork. Enjoy the food.

Merry Christmas!

The Rev. Ann Fontaine, Diocese of Wyoming, keeps the blogs Green Lent and what the tide brings in. She is the author of Streams of Mercy: a meditative commentary on the Bible.

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