Family, food, and gratitude lead perfectly into thoughts of Jesus, giving and joy. The day after Thanksgiving we've always hauled the boxes upstairs, rearranged the furniture in anticipation of the tree, checked to see if the lights still twinkled and unwrapped the Christmas dishes. At one time we had three trees throughout the house, with garland and ribbons on every light fixture and staircase. The kids often slept on quilts under the tree while a fire crackled and John Denver sang Aspenglow (or Please, Daddy...).
When we moved into our apartment, one of the things we divvied up amongst the kids was the decoration accumulation. We kept just a few of our most treasured pieces, but they got the German ornaments, mom's silver bells, some Swiss wood carvings and tole-painted centerpieces. There were plenty to go around, with enough left over to make our new home very festive.
Just before Thanksgiving this year I got smacked with a cold. It got worse, and for the last ten days I've been zapped of energy. The boxes holding the Santa collection and nativity scene have seemed so high on the shelves, and so heavy to lift. Boughs, wreaths, trees...it's so dark and cold and I'm wiped out. Our apartment building has an elegant social room, with high ceilings and a dazzling tall tree. We've reserved that for entertaining, and we'll be partying at our kid's houses, (plus we're going out of town for Christmas,) so I decided I wouldn't bother getting it all out this year. Nobody would even see the decorations, anyway. Whew! What a relaxing thought. No effort. There wouldn't be any of that anti-climactic un-decorating, either.
Yesterday Amy told me about her preparations. She and her kids talked about all the things they're doing to get ready for Christmas. Then they talked about how families get ready for a new baby to arrive. (I must quickly say that she's not pregnant!) They buy diapers, and blankets, a crib and a teddy bear.
She asked how they thought Mary would have prepared for Baby Jesus. There probably wasn't a baby shower where she opened new clothes for her baby, was there? Mary was far away from home, without a rocking chair, or a cradle. Did she bring the swaddling clothes with her? Joseph must have cleaned out the manger, and filled it with fresh straw.
Then Amy asked her little girls, "What would you do to prepare for Baby Jesus?" She showed them a little manger, and suggested they put pieces of straw in it whenever they do something kind for each other. The kinder they are, the softer the bed will be on Christmas Eve. Then the manger will be ready for Jesus, and their hearts will be ready, too.
I felt a pang of sadness that my little kids have all grown up. We're missing the simple and sweet wonder that children have when they hear the Christmas story. And then it dawned on me--I haven't prepared. Decorating is an important part of my preparation. It reminds me that December is different. When my surroundings are sparkling with anticipation, my heart is lit up, too.
I'm still unpacking the nativity pieces, and I need to find a little package of straw for my manger. It doesn't matter that nobody else will see it. I'm getting ready to feel the magic spirit of Christmas.