It’s common to see Christmas through tired eyes. A couple of days into the season and we feel behind. So much to do, and so little time to do it in. Our lists lengthen each year, we feed our own expectations, and we sometimes lose sight of the reason for the season.
But this season can look different if viewed through someone else’s eyes. Like little Abbey’s. The finale of our annual family Christmas party is an impromptu presentation of the Nativity. While her two cousins clamor to be angels, Abbey, with a dreamy, wistful look on her five-year-old face, pronounces she wants to be Mary. So we wrap a piece of cloth across her shoulders, drape a small shawl around her face, and set her aside while we deck out shepherds and wise men and angels. There she sits, with a little baby Jesus doll in her arms and an ageless, faraway look on her face. Her contemplative stare brings to mind the scriptural phrase, “Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Never saw a five-year-old ponder on anything before. But Abbey the Mary does.
She plays her part well. She walks with an equally diminutive Joseph to three different stern innkeepers before landing at a “stable,” lays that baby in the cardboard box manger on cue, stares thoughtfully at her cousin shepherds and wise men — and ponders. A lot.
When the play is over and the shepherds start peeling off their garb, she rouses suddenly from her pondering and says, “Hey, wait. I want to do that again. Can we do that again, please?” Which causes us grown ups to ponder as we see the scene through Abbey’s eyes — eyes that want to linger longer at the manger, consider the child more deeply, and pause to ponder.
Or see the season through the eyes of an elderly mother. A family tree stands at the civic center, bought and planted there (with town fathers’ permission) a year after Dad died. It’s named the Hancey tree after Dad’s family — the family that helped settle the small Northern Utah town, the family with five generations buried in the town cemetery.
Each December, siblings gather to string that tree with lights and garland, then let their little ones pick ornaments out of the Hancey box and hang them — at least on the bottom half of the tree where they can reach. (We finish the top half later). Mom, the matriarch, sits inside, watching through the window as multitudes of her descendants decorate her late husband’s tree. It’s too cold outside, she says, when invited to join them. Then someone notices tears on her face and thinking she’s sad, asks, “Are you okay, Mom?”
She smiles through tears, “I’m fine. I’m just happy.” Gesturing out the window, she adds, “That’s what Christmas is really all about.” And we see it through her eyes, catching a glimpse of the family’s core role at Christmastime from the one who brought us to this point.
Our view of Christmas can be joyful — and weary. It’s the most wonderful time of the year; it’s often the most stressful time of the year. It helps to step away from it, pause, and look at it through another’s eyes: the fellow selling his fresh-cut Montana trees in the snowy tree lot; the small child with two dollars crushed into his little fist wandering through the dollar store to find gifts for his siblings; the mom of that little child wandering alongside him as she wonders how she’ll find Christmas with the few dollars crushed into her own fist; the bell-ringing person standing by the red pot outside the local store; the cart boy whose work explodes in the month of joy and cheer as he shoves obstinate carts around, often through falling snow; the Santa hoisting hundreds of children, one at a time, onto his knee while maintaining a perpetual cheerfulness; the newly settled refugee who stares in puzzled wonder at the season’s celebrations. There’s not a one of them who wouldn’t welcome a cheerful comment, a friendly nod, or a warm smile. If we do, good flows back to us, and we see the season differently.
‘Tis the season to look and see. To see and do. To do and know — the true reason for the season.