Sunday, December 21, 2014

A Perfect Christmas?

"This isn't fair! You're ruining my son's perfect Christmas!" A woman told Steve this when Target did not have the video game her son wanted. There's clearly a problem with her statement, but it took me a while to fully unpack why.

I'm not saying there is something wrong with presents. I like getting presents. As I have alluded to before, however, gifts cannot be a substitute for real relationships. I'm curious how lacking one video game can ruin a perfect Christmas. What happens when someone doesn't get the one thing they need? As I thought about my childhood trying to find that answer, I kept coming back to one year when my sister had her heart set on something.

One year, Martha was begging Santa for a horse. Christmas morning, when we came out to the living room, she had the biggest box. There is a special kind of magic about the biggest box under the tree, and while there obviously wasn't a horse in the box in the living room, who knows what it held? It could have been a saddle for the horse that had to be in the backyard! Of course, that was the first box Martha went for. She unwrapped it and found... another wrapped box. She tore open that wrapping paper, ripped open the box, and found another box. Pulling that box out, she opened it and, well, you can guess the rest. After what seemed like a million boxes, but was probably only seven or so, she came to a jewelry box and a letter from Santa.

Dear Martha,

I know you really wanted a horse. I'm sorry I couldn't bring you one! He wouldn't fit on the sleigh, you know. And a horse wouldn't work for your family right now. You're big enough to understand that. I hope you enjoy this instead--you can take it with you everywhere! Thanks for being good.



In the jewelry box was a beautiful rocking horse pendant with a green enamel saddle.

I think that by this point, I was aware that Mom and Dad had a hand in the whole Santa thing. That awareness meant that I could see the lengths they went to to make Martha as happy as possible (without actually saddling the family with a horse). They listened to her, respected her wishes, and responded appropriately.

I bet at the time Martha didn't think it was the perfect Christmas. She still wanted a horse, after all--one she could ride around the backyard and maybe to her best friend's house. And I'm not saying that woman in Target should get her eight-year-old son a Lego pendant instead of the new Lego video game.

But I can empathize. The Christmas story isn't the story of a perfect day. I don't want a God who is born in a smelly barn and laid in hay. I don't want a God born to an unwed, teenage mother. (And I'm betting Mary didn't want to road trip while nine months pregnant and give birth far away from her mother.) I don't want to think of a God destined to die. I certainly don't want to be responsible for the necessity of God dying. But sometimes a perfect Christmas and getting what we want for Christmas aren't the same thing.

Martha still has never had a horse--maybe when she gets her own place. I don't know if the Target woman's son will get his video game for Christmas--and to be fair, she was probably just stressed after a day of shopping. But we'll have a perfect Christmas, no matter what's under the tree.

And last I knew, Martha still had that rocking horse pendant.

*This isn't the actual text of the letter--it got recycled long ago. It is the actual spirit of the letter, however.

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