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An article in an e-magazine caught my attention yesterday and the subtitle left me shaking my head in dazed disbelief to the point that I didn’t dare read further.  The article offered help to wayward gift wrappers to color and style-coordinate their presents so each box may match and enhance the home’s  interior design when placed under the tree.

Please, in the name of all days holy…..let this meaningless madness stop!

Gentle readers, I will admit to you that I don’t like christmas (intentionally using a lower case ‘c’ to denote secular activities) all that much anymore.  It leaves me tired and feeling as if I still didn’t do enough.  Now that my children are grown and have left home, the traditional American christmas holiday is just not worth that outcome.

Before you decide that I’m related to Scrooge…..I appreciate the ‘idea’ of christmas…the peace on earth, the goodwill toward all, the children laughing and all those other sentimental  ideals we sing about.  But for me, a practical woman wired to please, all those sentiments simply add to the pressure.

There are many voices declaring that our culture spends too much time and money and energy for this annual event.    But those seem to be drowned by the constant melody of carols on the car radio and overhead speakers in every store; commercials and pop-up ads hawking the must-have items of the year;  homes and offices that must be decorated to impress; party invitations, pot lucks, obligatory gift and cookie exchanges, numerous requests for volunteers at charity events, palms open for donations at every turn, calendars filled with so much activity that heads spin; and now according to the magazine article… my colorful packages should be coordinated with my home décor and I suppose I’ll need to find out others’ décor so that my gifts sent to them will not embarrass theirs!

So with all the activities, the lights and noise and banners, all drawing attention to their particular message, I must ask myself, exactly what is the message?

I don’t believe those things are telling us much about Christmas (note the capital letter C here, for the real holy day).  Considering our participation in all the secular commercialism, it is difficult for me to understand why we Americans still refer to this holiday as a religious observance.  Children are more likely to meet Santa Clause at the mall than to see a nativity scene at a church event.   In fact, there’s little evidence of the Christian celebration outside church sanctuaries.  Instead, ‘Jesus is the reason for the season’ is a convenient, American platitude we use to make ourselves feel better about our collective spending that’s encouraged during the eight weeks between Halloween and December 25.

These thoughts were heavy in my mind as I left my driveway this morning and headed to work.  The past  couple of years have been a struggle for my family.  We’re no different than many others who have difficult challenges…. diagnosis of cancer, high medical bills, under-employment, stress- induced high blood pressure, grief for lost loved ones, problems with depression and alcohol, and the list continues.  So, considering all these things compounded by my holiday exhaustion, it is no wonder that our cultural symbols of peace and joy ring hollow for me.    I uttered a silent prayer, asking for calm perseverance and for this ‘blessed season’ to be done and over!

In the next moment as I turned into the main roadway of my neighborhood, my sweeping glance noticed an unusual spot of red, high up in a winter-bare tree.  Without direct attention, my mind registered it as a lone cardinal, but then again, instinct told me the bird was too large to be a cardinal.  I slowed, looked more closely, focused on the color.  The bird took flight, swooping down in front of my windshield as if on cue to give me a better view.  It was a large male robin.  It was a large male robin?!  This intrigued me.  I’ve never seen a robin in our area in mid-December before.  What an odd occurrence.

And then, warm calm washed over me with sweet realization:  Robins are a harbinger of spring, and spring is the time for birth, for new beginnings, that life will continue onward.  This hectic season of hustling too much for all the wrong reasons will come to an end.    Like the fresh starts in springtime, the birth of Jesus brings new life, in all its promise for those who are discouraged.  Treatments will help ailing bodies to heal, time and love will help hurting hearts to cope; opportunities for professional growth will appear, resources will emerge so bills can be paid, family members will reconcile, rest for the weary will come eventually.

In a fleeting moment, the most unlikely messenger in nature brought me the Christmas peace my spirit yearned for…perfectly wrapped in red.

May we all be blessed with meaningful messages in this ‘holy day’ season.