Time was, there were two days each year that were always good just because. The season was great, but nothing bad could penetrate the inherent goodness, the sheer magic of these two days. It was as if the days themselves were protected from even the faintest shadow of darkness or discouragement. And it was all just because.
Just because it was Christmas Eve, the day was defined by near unbearable anticipation of what Christmas Day itself would bring. There was that tangible feeling, the smells and sounds of the day. Christmas Eve . . . Everything came together on that day to create an atmosphere thick with excitement. He didn't walk through Christmas Eve, he swam in it. Christmas Eve . . . it was the exciting day.
It was fun just because it was Christmas Day. This is when it all happened. And it all always happened. It began by waking early from a sleep that was near impossible to find in the first place, followed by hurriedly dressing in the cold room. The little space heater had not yet done its work, but there was no complaining about the temperature this morning, no hiding beneath the covers until the room was warm today! Then, the kids waited for Mama and Daddy to open the hall door which resulted in a stampede to the living room and a mass dive under the far-reaching branches of the Christmas Tree.
Time seemed to move slowly amid the "look what I got"'s, the "How does this work"'s, and the "Daddy, can you put this together?"'s. After the socks they used for stockings were emptied to see what all Santa Claus had stuffed in there it was time to open the presents from each to all. Ribbon, paper, and bows, flew in all directions! There was no order to the event and it was over and done well within five minutes.
Next came the visits. Up the road to visit aunts and uncles and cousins. A little further up the road to visit the grandparents. It was a grand time . . . a favorite part of the day. Even outdoors the day had a certain feel to it. It was the way Christmas "seems". And all just because it was Christmas. It was only natural that they had to head back down the road to get home. After all, the same people they had just visited were now due to visit them! More hugs and jokes and "my, my, look at that"'s. Lots of laughter. And, just in time, everyone went home because it was a little past noon and Christmas Dinner had to be served. Then came all the food and deserts that you eat just because it's Christmas.
After a "quiet" afternoon playing, a meal of cherished leftovers, and maybe another family get-together, the day he didn't want to end ended. That was the fun day, and that's the way it always happened.
Years passed. Christmas changed. Well, the way he celebrated changed. He wonders if he should have held tighter to that magic during his teen years. Maybe that's when he lost it. He always wanted it to be the same, but, it changed and it never went back. Now, decades later, he longs for the Christmas he knew as a child. The coming of Christmas still arouses that child within him. He wants his family to know Christmas as he knew it. Everything that used to be just because it was Christmas is no longer just because. It doesn't just happen. He seeks it, and if he doesn't find it he makes it, he forces it. All because it should be. It should "just be". And he feels like such a phony.
Christmas, which once brought such excitement and anticipation just because it was Christmas, now serves as an annual reminder of just what a failure he is. Oh, he gets little notices all through the year, but Christmas really brings it home.
He will readily admit that his failings are largely material. Money is always tight. Always. But, for a man who wants to do so much and yet can do so little for his family throughout the year, Christmas, with all of its grace and goodness, continues to taunt him with his own deficiencies. Every year, he finds himself saying, "Maybe next year". He embarrasses himself repeating it yet again. It has become a joke. He laughs when he says it. . . . he hurts when he says it.
He doesn't really care about getting anything. It's the radiant joy on the face of the giver that blesses him. To receive from someone who enjoys giving is a gift in itself. It's not what he receives that matters nearly so much as how it is given. He is never disappointed in the gifts he receives. A book, a cd, a dvd, a pair of bedroom shoes offered with the joy of giving means just as much as a wide screen tv, a high performance sound system, or a whole new suit of clothes.
He can't seem to reconcile himself to that on the giving end though. He has never been able to give "the nicer things in life" to those he loves. "Maybe next year I can buy the real jewelry", he tells himself. "Maybe next year I can buy the nice clothes and send my wife out looking like a million dollars!" When the kids were little, it was the nicer toys, the things little children really wanted that eluded him. "Maybe next year," he said until enough next years had passed that they had outgrown toys. Then it became the clothes, the shoes, the cd players, . . . all the stuff that made for a teenager's "in" lifestyle. "Maybe next year" until they were grown and gone and it still hasn't changed. Every year . . . every "next year" seemed to stamp "failure" on his passport from one year to the next.
The thing is, no one else shares his disappointment. It's mostly internal. He loves them all too much to let the outside know what is really going on inside. If any of them knew the burden of the load he carries, the totality of their disappointment would be for him, not in him. They love him very much. He knows this. And they love how he "keeps Christmas". Disappointment in himself takes a back seat to the joy of the season. If he can't give the gifts, he can give the experience. He can keep Christmas, and they can keep it with him. And it is in this love, the love they share, that he continues to make the most of each Christmas that passes. It's how he keeps Christmas.
It's about the love anyway. The love of God who gave His Son. The love of the Son who gave Himself. The love that comes with knowing the Son. Love that wants to give and then give more. Love that doesn't care what or how much or if it gets. Love that is its own best gift.
It's here that he ultimately finds himself . . . every year. Loving . . . loved. . . . and keeping the Day . . . just because it's Christmas. Because that's the way it should be, and that's the way it has always been, and that's the way it is. After all . . . there's always next year!