December 25, 2004, was the straw that broke the camel’s back, the Christmas when the proverbial poop hit the fan. I finally said out loud to Andy what I’d been stuffing down for the eight years we’d been married: “I hate Christmas!”
I felt terrible saying this about one of the most sacred holidays. Of course, I didn’t hate celebrating the birth of Jesus. It was the crowded airplanes and airports I despised and spending 12 days of Christmas in a house packed with 12 relatives.
I loathed trying to come up with gift ideas for 19 relatives who already had everything they needed. I was bitter about spending evenings and weekends shopping.
The amount of toys our kids received at Christmas put a knot in my stomach. They already had more toys than they could play with, and I envisioned the playroom getting more cluttered with each gift they unwrapped.
I was emotionally drained from trying to please and meet the expectations of my parents, two sets of in-laws, grandparents, husband, and children. Overall, I felt a deep sadness that the Christmas season, which should be a time of worship and meaningful reflection, was instead a season of strain and stress.
As I named all the things that sucked the life out of me at Christmas, I had an epiphany. Christmas doesn’t have to be this way! I can choose a different way, a better way. I can say “no” to excess, people pleasing, and the things that, for me, crowd Jesus out of Christmas. And in saying “no” to these things I can say “yes” to a more peaceful, meaningful season that will give our family the space to ponder and wonder at the mystery of the incarnation.
Our Christmases have gotten progressively better over the years. We’ve stopped traveling at Christmas and instead visit relatives during the summer. We gently encourage our parents to give our children fewer gifts. We spend a lot less time shopping by giving relational gifts of quality time.
Andy has released himself from the pressure to spend two cold, miserable Saturdays on a ladder, hanging up and taking down Christmas lights, and for the most part, I’ve rejected the belief that it’s my job to try to make everyone happy.
Is God nudging you to reject or release anything this Christmas? Trust his prompting, and enjoy the space and freedom to worship him fully.
— Marta Oti Sears
Marta Oti Sears is a justice advocate with International Justice Mission and is trying her hand at freelance writing. Her favorite spot during Advent is in front of the fire, Advent Reader in hand, with no light but a candle and the light of the Christmas tree.