Jingle bells, jingle bells...What do you want for Christmas, little girl?... On a one-horse open sleigh...Frosty the Snowman...
I grew up in a very secular household. Christmas season was all about the anticipation of the gifts under the tree, especially the ones (the biggest and best ones) Santa would bring on Christmas Eve. It was about baking Christmas cookies and decorating the tree. I remember the weeks of aching anticipation I spent as a schoolgirl, waiting. Wondering what I would get.
I heard the stories about baby Jesus and the three wise men and the stable, but they were just stories, with a message about love.
And at last, Christmas Eve would come. We would usually open one gift each, but not the "best" ones -- those were held for Christmas morning. I could hardly sleep on Christmas Eve for the excitement of it all. One of my earliest and best memories is of being at my grandmother's house for Christmas. She calmed me down enough to get me to sleep by lying down on the bed beside me and telling me to be very still and quiet so I would hear the reindeer landing on the roof.
Then Christmas morning finally arrived. The Santa gifts were always left unwrapped under the tree and we checked them out first, trying out the bicycle or junior chemistry set or doll carriage, then we ripped into the wrapped gifts. Paper and ribbon and stick-on bows went flying. We examined our loot. We had brunch. Then it was all over. Another Christmas bit the dust. There was a sense of let-down, after all the anticipation, after all the Christmas adrenaline -- it was over. The day after Christmas had a little cloud of depression hanging over it, in the knowledge we'd have another whole year, a very long time for a child to wait.
I see roots and parallels in my enjoyment of the Advent season, with its sense of anticipation, of waiting for something wonderful to come, and my childhood anticipation of Christmas, but there the similarities end. The older I get, the less I care about gifts and the exchange of them. They're usually something bought under pressure by someone desperate to find SOMETHING and get this holiday shopping over with.
No, the specialness of Christmas is its Easter message. I know my Lord's a-coming and I'm waiting for Him. In my unsaintly theology, Christmas is the first coming, then Easter, bringing our resurrected King, is the second coming (I guess that means we're actually awaiting his third coming and alleluia, He is coming -- yet He is here. Emmanuel.). I'm rejoicing in His birth.
And Christmas Day is just the beginning of the celebration, not the end.