Ah, home! After a lengthy and tumultuous trip home (1 delayed flight + 1 missed flight + 3 standby lines + 2 connecting flight = 29 hours of travelling), I was greeted by hold-your-breath subzero weather and the familiar warmth of hugs from my beloveds. Oh, it’s good to be home, sleeping in my very own bed, covered in the hair of my very own absurd golden retriever.
On Saturday, the negative value of the thermostat exactly matched the inches of snow piled in our front yard, necessitating a cozy snow day. My mom, brother and I took the opportunity to stock the larder, as it were, for the remaining incoming Clark-people who are to arrive in the next few days.
What lovely smells and sounds have filled our kitchen!
The comforting, earthy smell of rising bread…
The wholesome, hearty bubbling of lentil soup…
The wafting sweetness of sugary treats galore…
The constant soundtrack of favourite Christmas albums…
The whole atmosphere is charged with a cheerful anticipation. My chest is filled with a feeling like comfort, and delight, and sparkling gold. Yes, I am being theatrical, but somehow the season and the sparkling lights on the tree demand it.
Perhaps this is what they call Christmas Spirit.
Christmas has, from time to time, gotten a bad rap. Companies and corporations have seized upon the perceived potency of the season with clever effectiveness, squeezing pockets dry in the name of holiday generosity. On the dusty shelves of department stores, Christmas spirit becomes a ghost, haunting piles of things we don’t need, and that distant family member won’t want (but we’ll buy anyway).
But, let us call the Christmas fraud for what it is. I think the true Christmas spirit is tucked in a deeper magic, and a truer generosity.
I find my philosophy with Scrooge’s nephew Fred in the Christmas Carol.
“I have always thought of Christmastime, when it has come around— apart from the veneration due its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that— as a good time, a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as though they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And, therefore uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good. and I say, God bless it!”
As Fred notes, Christmas is first and foremost a celebration of that most magical of the Christian doctrines: the incarnation, God becoming man, to dwell among us.The story is infused with wonder and delivers the most wondrous news of all: God’s heart is one of love and redemption and He would do anything to be with us.
No wonder Christmas is such a merry celebration!
But the joy of Christmas tumbles beyond the explicitly religious. Many who do not hold to the Christian faith still revel in this exuberant season, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. In a world devoid of traditions, I think the Christmas season is one which unites all who are open to it in a spirit of generosity, thankfulness, openness and celebration.
Therefore, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good, and I say, God bless it!
All this to say, I’m very in favour of spreading Christmas cheer.
As such, I have taken a great deal of delight in compiling some of my Christmas favourites for this blog post. Find below some of my favourite musical, culinary, cinematic, and party traditions.
And tell me your own!
And a very merry (almost) Christmas to you all!
Favourite Christmas Movies:
Oh, goodness. There are many Christmas movies I love, but I'll try to narrow it down to my (current) top five.
1. Muppet Christmas Carol
I know what you're thinking... But, listen! This is one of the most delightful, hilarious, thoughtful, and charming Christmas movies. If I had to only watch on Christmas movie, it would probably be this one.
2. White Christmas
This is a classic. And it happens to be the first film in colour, which is pretty fun. And what could be more festive than Bing Crosby crooning to you in a Santa outfit from a hotel in Vermont.
3. It's a Wonderful Life
Merry Christmas, you old Building and Loan! Need I really say more?
4. Miracle on 34 Street (1994)
New York in December. Innocence. Santa Claus. This movie is somehow emblematic of my childhood Christmas ethos, and will always hold a special place in my heart.
This one will break your heart and put it back together. This movie tells the tale of a father in Ireland who would not give up his children to an unfair custody system. This is not specifically a Christmas movie, but I recommend it highly.
Favourite Christmas Cookies:
1. Hello Dollies
These are the most decadent cookies and also win the award for the most adorable name. I use the recipe below, but I substitute white chocolate chips for butterscotch chocolate chips, and pecans for walnuts.
2. Snow Balls (Russian Tea-cakes)
The only downfall of these cookies is that you too will look like a snowball after consumption. A tip for extra delicious cookies is to roll them in powdered sugar twice. The first time you do it the powdered sugar melts on, so a second dip does well.
3. Sugar Cookies
But really, what is Christmas without sugar cookies? I strongly advocate for many cookie cutters and overly complex decorations.
There are quite a few books I could include in this list, but for the purposes of this blog post I'm limiting myself to three...
1. The Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
For as long as I can remember now, I've tried to read this every Christmas. It is delightful, convicting, haunting and hopeful. I am just a sucker for Dickens' prose, and I am confident this book will never disappoint in putting its reader into a generous holiday mood.
2. On the Incarnation - Athanasius
Written in the 4th century, this small but dense book of theology is a beautiful explication of the Incarnation: what it means for God to come to humanity. Despite its rich theological content, it is a fairly easy read. As I've been reading it this year, I've been struck by the vividness with which Athanasius writes about God's love.
3. Annika's Secret Wish - Beverly Lewis
I grew up flipping through the pages of this beautifully illustrated book. It's depiction of a traditional Scandinavian Christmas makes me wish I were Scandinavian myself! It is also a gentle and lovely story that captures the true, humble generosity of Christmas.
Favourite Christmas Music:
1. White Winter Hymnal - Pentatonix
I suppose this one isn't even technically a Christmas song, but I always listen to it when December rolls around. There is something so addicting about this song in its rhythms, melody and harmonies.
2. What Child is This? - Andrea Bocelli and Mary J. Blige
I think what I love best about this song is its blending of classical and soul. Bocelli's and Bliges voice surprisingly work so well together. And I love the triumphant declaration of who this child is... it captures the mystery and beauty of the Christmas story!
3. I'll Be Home for Christmas - Josh Groban
Cut to my mom and I crying in the car while listening to this on the way to the grocery store. This is a tear jerker for sure, but also a precious reminder of those who are apart from their families this Christmas year.
4. Wexford Carol - Yo-Yo Ma and Alison Krauss
The Wexford carol is one of the less well known, but has quickly become a favourite of mine. I love the haunting melody and inviting lyrics. And Yo-Yo Ma and Alison Krauss? How could you get any better?
5. Mary Did you Know - Pentatonix
Pentatonic does Christmas music particularly well, and this version of Mary Did You Know is beautiful. And to all of you who are quick to say "Yes! Mary did know. Omg"... Yes she probably had some idea, but this is a song that stands as an imaginative proposal not a theological statement. Let it be that and enjoy the grandeur.
6. Welcome to Our World - Michael W. Smith
In my opinion, this is one of the simplest and loveliest meditations on the incarnation.
Favourite Christmas Episodes of West Wing:
I was going to pick my favourite TV episodes, and then I realised that pretty much all my favourite TV Christmas episodes were in the West Wing. So I just gave in...
1. In Excelsis Deo - Season One, Episode Ten
This episode is a perfect example of Aaron Sorkin's ability to weave together multiple story lines into a unified message. And this episode's is one which dignifies all people and keeps in mind the griefs that remain coexistent with the celebration of Christmas. It reminds us to be gentle with each other.
2. Holy Night - Season Four, Episode Eleven
The appearance of Yale's choral group Whiffenpoofs make this episode particularly festive. But the episode also explores themes of forgiveness and hope.
3. Noël - Season Two, Episode Ten
This episode can't be watched out of context... if you haven't seen West Wing, don't start cold on this episode. But it is a powerful episode that deals with trauma.
It is strange sometimes to sit in my comfortable little home when so many are not comfortable. I think this discomfort should lead us to generosity. This time of year is one which should be marked by openness of heart and wallet. When giving, I try to think of three ways to give: locally, nationally, and internationally. I encourage you to do the same.
1. Local: Mary's Home
This wonderful charity is a residential program for homeless mothers. Residents at Mary's home may stay from 1-4 years, where they will receive counselling, financial assistance, job training and spiritual guidance. I love their long term vision for helping people thrive. And what better a place to give on Christmas than somewhere named "Mary's Home?"
2. Nationally: Whole Heart Ministries
It is a good feeling to support the ministry of my parents. I have grown up through the years watching their ministry touch, help, and empower parents across the country and world to take responsibility for the hearts and minds of their children from parenting, to education, to providing a beautiful home.
3. Internationally: Preemptive Love
The crisis in Syria has reached a boiling point in these last weeks, resulting in the displacement of thousands of families. The plight of fleeing family's feels particularly keen when I consider that Jesus was just such a child... fleeing from the tyranny of a violent government. While I often feel powerless to help, I am thankful for charities like Preemptive love that provide real, practical, and loving support to those fleeing for safety.
So, there are a few ways I engage in and spread Christmas cheer.
What are yours?
And as Tiny Tim would say...
God bless us... everyone!