I remember a lecture on neurons and the paths they take at adult Sunday school one winter. The lecturer was a respected psychologist and had been influential in my husband’s life. So I was primed to take what he said seriously. He pontificated at length on the manipulation of our neuro-nets by the world of advertising. From his point of view, Christmas provided the perfect opportunity for people to be set up for greed and disappointment.
He mentioned how the smells of pine and cinnamon, the ubiquitous strands of lights, and the shiny wrapped presents sent our neurons skittering along pathways every season. These sights and sounds dug neural trenches that made us easy targets for marketers and scam artists leading us into debt and family drama. Christmas, to him, was one big consumer frenzy and the wise Christian would refuse to participate.
He got me. For about an hour, I contemplated the lamentable route my neurons led me, a path of too many gifts and way too much fudge. Then I realized he unwittingly had just given me the key to using those same gullible, hedonistic neurons to redeem Christmas for my family.
You see, for us, Christmas meant a reminder of trauma. For my daughters and me, it was a chance to relive the temper tantrums of my abusive ex-husband. For my current and wonderful husband, it was a chance to remember family fights and his brother’s suicide the day after Christmas, a decade before. For his children, it was the time they became most aware of balancing two families.
So I ignored the dire warnings of Dr. Scrooge at church and instead, decided to treat Christmas the way that God did. I decided it was time to go big or go home. Most people are aware that Jesus is the reason for the season. What they perhaps don’t realize is that the way we celebrate Christmas is pretty much the way our Heavenly Father made a big fuss over the birth of his Son. I had a lot at stake. I needed to create a sense of family, heal wounds from the past, and give those neurons a new route other than the highway of misery they usually took.
So how did I get that neural train to jump the tracks?
Lights. Lots of lights. God used a bright star with which to decorate the night sky. My family still talks about the lit garlands that wrapped around our staircase and the icicles that dripped light around our California home. Every Christmas I had a different theme for our Christmas tree.
One year it was an 18-foot pine from the mountains covered in peach and blue with white lights and clear bulbs. It sounds odd but it was truly beautiful. Another year it was seashells. Another it was a small woodland creature theme. Each one was uniquely beautiful. A treasure for the senses.
The sheer beauty of our décor was healing. But filling our home with hundreds of lights, candles, and glowing ornaments, especially around our beautiful nativity set, is an idea straight from the way the Father lit the night sky with the star and with the angels. Both sets of lights led to a sense of hope, a pathway out of our neural darkness.
Music changes everything. For me, Christmas is not Christmas without Handel’s Messiah. My Heavenly Father even arranged for me to be a part of a choir that sang it each year for a while with a local orchestra. My whole family would come and listen and it was so blessed.
But my filling of the home with music is an idea straight from God, who filled the sky with an angelic chorus. To hear a whole choir of angels singing Glory to God in the Highest? Just wow. Christmas and music are inseparable. Sure, some of the music is pretty secular, but my ex-husband hated Christmas music and so our holidays were filled with silence. To have everything from all the Santa songs to Joy to the World is a joyous celebration.
Gift-giving is sometimes a little controversial for earnest Christians. Certainly, the psychologist at church was determined to inject a bit of guilt into the process. Is Christmas too materialistic? Sure. But God sent three wise men over thousands of miles to give Jesus three expensive gifts. For my daughters, in particular, receiving gifts was associated with guilt and emotional manipulation. Every present was a new way to make them feel like a burden. I think that is even less godly than spoiling our kids once a year.
So I gave magical gifts. Silly gifts. I always gave perfume. That way I hit several neural centers at once. After all, God sent Jesus frankincense and myrrh. I filled stockings with goodies and practical jokes. I made sure each gift was a personal affirmation of each child and for my husband. After all, the gifts Jesus received were prophetic and each revealed an aspect of his purpose.
I knew I had gotten through to them when one year, they saved and pooled their money to give me a Versace teapot. I long admired it but did not even dream of owning it. All my children gave sacrificially in order to bless me and affirm me as a mother. The teapot was great, but it was their hearts that I received that Christmas.
And we remember the poor. Several times we adopted families who struggled. Our holidays always included some disenfranchised souls who needed emotional shelter for the holiday. Jesus’ shelter may have been humble, but it was also filled with a sense of the miraculous, what with the visitors who came to bless the little baby.
And why all the fanfare? Because I think it gave Mary and Joseph a sense of blessing and bonding during a trying time. God was celebrating His little family by bringing lights, music, and gifts, the hallmarks of every great celebration. His son had arrived and Mary and Joseph were his people. And they were a blended family too. Joseph was a step-father, really when you think about it. God certainly sent their neurons forging new roads, surprising them in the midst of difficulty with wondrous signs in the heavens and powerful visitors.
Christmas is like everything else. You get out of it what you put into it. The secular always struggles with the sacred, even in our own minds. But bringing a spirit of celebration into your home is perhaps one of the godliest things you can do.
I bring you tidings of great joy. A Savior has been born this day. So set out your lights, wrap your presents, and crank up the music. It’s time for a party.
Here are my inspirations for a great Christmas.
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