Throughout this holiday season, I’ve been having a recurring feeling – somewhere between nostalgia and relief.
Relief, because things are nowhere near as locked-down as this time last year, when few if any of us were vaccinated, and COVID numbers were steadily rising. Relief, because we can travel and meet indoors even if there are masks involved, and because it’s safer to do more of the Christmassy things that we love.
But nostalgia too, because it’s not quite normal yet. Because friends are still getting sick, and there are still these pesky masks, and yet another variant requiring that we put our guard up yet again.
Whereas last year represented a truly extraordinary time, this year is closer to ordinary, but still not quite there yet. And because of that, because I can’t just jump back into a “normal” mode of celebrating the holidays, I’ve been thinking more this year.
Thinking about what feels important, after a year when nothing felt quite right, and when more possibilities are open to me now – when I have options, and choices, about what to buy and give and how to gather and when.
In the spirit of this, I’ve seen a rewritten Christmas list circulating on the internet lately, and it struck a chord with me – maybe you’ve seen it too.
Instead of buy presents, it says: be present.
Instead of wrap gifts: wrap someone in a hug.
Instead of see the lights: be the light.
There are more reminders on the list, but all of them the same: calling us back to a way of living in this season that is more present and gracious and gentle.
What we had last year was a forced interruption to all of our rhythms, and that meant sadness and sacrifice, but it also means opportunity. A chance to rethink what is most important in this season.
For me, that has meant less baking than usual, but more thoughtful bakes. What do my friends need and want? Is it all sweets, or something salty and savory too?
Is it lots of gifts, or a few thoughtfully chosen ones?
Is it me keeping busy and churning out lots of cards and gift boxes, or being more rested and present to my people, to the stories of how they are and what they’ve been through this year?
As people of faith, we know what the reason behind all of this holiday bustle is – but we’re still susceptible to the rush. To the pressure to do more and be more and produce more. Last year, the pressure was off in a lot of ways – but this year, it beckons us again.
And so in this year, I hope we take the invitation that is before us: to reflect, and to pray, and to adjust where we feel called. To listen to what the Holy Spirit is calling us to, in this Advent and this Christmas, and to follow. Even if it’s somewhere new, somewhere different than where we have been before.
That’s the gift of these in-between times.