December--The Quiet Month
I actually wrote this blog a year ago. Called "Confessions of a December Dropout," I wrote it to give myself--and anyone else who needed it--permission to opt out of the crazy hustle and noise of the season. Turns out I need that message even more this year than I did a year ago. The weariness I felt in December '15 I feel even more deeply now, and the quietness that beckoned me twelve months ago calls with even greater insistence today. So, here's to a quiet month, a month of slowed down hours and simple pleasures, a month of deep healing and profound joy and the anticipation of new birth. Join me? As a child I loved December. I loved the music, the decorations, the gift giving, the church Christmas programs, the family gatherings. Every Christmas Eve my mom and dad, brother and I slept overnight on couches and in sleeping bags at my aunt and uncle’s house. My brother and I loved joining the chaos created by our six cousins—five girls and a boy. Christmas morning broke early and after a slow reading of the Christmas story, the pandemonium of wrappings and ribbons and exclamations of delight began. I loved it! Every year I loved it!
But after thirty years as an adult, managing Christmas in a pastor’s family, I had to admit that I hated December. December = rush. December = stress. December = impossible expectations. December = anything but peace, joy and love.
So I started saying no to December.
I quit sending Christmas cards. Actually I’d quit sending them years earlier. But every year I still bought them, thinking that year I’d send them for sure. Now I don’t pretend. I know I’m not going to send them so I don’t even buy them.
I quit decorating my house for Christmas. I actually love Christmas decorations and I used to spend days decorating the house—with a different, lovely theme each year. But somewhere along the way it started feeling more like work than pleasure. So I started doing less…and less…and less.
This year, whenever the grandsons come over, they pick out whatever decorations they choose from the Christmas boxes in the basement and we display them wherever they choose. We’ve got Christmas stockings hanging in some very interesting places this year, and not much else. We won’t win any decorating awards, but seriously, if it delights the little boys it delights their nana!
I quit hosting parties. One reason I used to decorate so lavishly is that we hosted a big annual party. We’d move furniture out and set up tables throughout the living area of the house, offering a sit-down dinner for international guests visiting the Chicago area. It was lovely, much appreciated, and it made me miserable. I’m not the hostess with the mostest. I tried. It made sense in my heart. But it makes more sense now, with the party hosted by someone else—by a woman who could pull it off with one arm tied behind her back and a smile on her face.
Now during December I’m big on spur-of-the-moment visits with close friends. Nothing beats a cup of tea in front of the fireplace—a moment of calm—with someone you love but don’t see as often as you’d like.
I quit going to the mall. My shopping list gets shorter and shorter each year. This year, if you’re not one of my grandsons, you’re probably not on my list. Sorry. I’ve never been a good shopper—and I’m especially bad in December.
I don’t do cookie exchanges. Last week 4-year-old Mac and I made sugar cut-out cookies—mostly stars because the star cookie cutters (in multiple sizes) worked much better than Santa and his sleigh (clearly a bad design). Our cookies were neither gorgeous nor delicious. But boy did we have fun! And boy did the red and green sprinkles end up everywhere! Actually, Mac and I did exchange cookies with our initials on them, so I guess—technically—I did do a cookie exchange this year.
So, with all that stuff I don’t do in December, what do I do?
I listen to music really loud. I tend to go heavy on flute and harp. Alternative. Instrumentals. Ballads. Whatever makes me happy on a given day.
I write notes. This is not the same as sending Christmas cards. There’s no list. Sometimes it’s just a fleeting thought of someone that prompts me to write a few words of cheer. I wish I did this twelve months a year, but I don’t.
I sit in a chair and look out the window. Eleven months a year I’m an introvert living a very extroverted life. In December I introvert to my soul’s content. I let life simmer because I need to before I begin a New Year.
I enjoy my aging parents. Last December I visited my mom early in the month and realized her health was failing faster than I’d thought. Because my December was so uncluttered I was free to stay with her in Michigan for most of the month. She died last July and I am so very thankful I had that slowed-down Christmas with her last year. Tomorrow I’ll go to visit my dad, grateful I have the December-freedom to do this.
I lean into the Joy of Advent. I spent much of the past November in Iraq, Israel and Palestine, meeting with war-weary, suffering people. I entered December weary myself, as we all are now. Weary of war and violence and hatred and fear. Weary of wordy politicians and incomprehensible extremists and thoughtless pundits.
Weary. Weary. Weary.
So, I light a candle in the darkness of the early morning, turn to my assorted Advent books, and search for words of hope, for promises of life, for assurances of a better end to our story than what we are seeing now. Though it looks in many ways like hatred and fear are winning, I've seen real-life heroes in frightening places loving bravely in Jesus' name.
In January I’ll get back to work, hopefully in a way that is true to the Kingdom Jesus brought to earth. But for now, in December, I sit, I wait, I ponder the beauty and joy of that Kingdom—and I allow myself to be refreshed by the mere thought of it.
I don’t expect most people to drop out of December as I have. I’m old and everybody knows I lean toward the counter-cultural, so I manage to get away with it. But maybe you, or you, or you, will at least find a little freedom here to say no to an occasional December demand, or to a particularly draining (for you) expectation. Maybe that will give you a moment, or an hour, or a day to invest differently this December, to invest in a more soul-filling way.
And if you’re one who thrives in the chaotic noise and stimulation and pace and festivities of December, I cheer you on. I’ll stand in the back and enjoy all that you create and host and send and bake and give and present to the world. I’ll be your quiet little sister saying, Wow, look at that! Isn’t that great! Isn’t she amazing!
December is a glorious challenge—full of potential and pitfalls in equal measure. My prayer is that with a little thought and decisiveness, many of us will be able to look back in January and say, Wasn’t that a great December!