We’re less than a week away from Christmas, and I feel like I haven’t had a minute to just sit and think about it.

Yes, there have been hours spent searching for a relatively few number of items online compared to most years, but that’s been about the gifts I want to give, not the reason why I love to give them.

And if you read last year’s Christmas post I’ll give you a little spoiler: our time spent opening presents won’t be as crazy long this year, because we are skint and need to pare down on the buying.

But will we still be celebrating Christmas? And what is it that we are looking for in the boxes and wrapping paper? Whether giving or receiving, there’s an internal motivation that drives us to take time away from careers and schedules and gather with family and friends.

I cannot speak for you. I can only speak for me.

Because at its heart, Christmas is a deeply personal celebration.

As a child the cold weather always came first, the short days. Visits to Santa at some shopping center, and eventually Christmas Eve when we would open one present each: handmade pajamas from one of our grandmas.

Then all the rituals of Christmas morning. Sitting on the landing of the stairs while Mom and Dad started making coffee and prepping the turkey.

We would gradually scoot down one stair at a time, but we knew we were supposed to stop before the open railing to the living room. As we got older we took turns as to who got to go all the way down and run across the floor without looking too hard and plug in the tree lights.

And then we would crowd together on one stair and see what we could make out by the light of those big, colorful bulbs.

The tree would be set up by the front windows near the fireplace. It took a day to put it up every year. When it was new the individual branches were color coded, but over the years it took longer to see the specks of paint left on the hard wire stem ends. It often became a guessing game, stacking up like-sized pieces, hoping they would fit into the holes on the tube in the center.

We’d start at the top, poking each branch into the “trunk”, adjusting the angles as we went down to avoid large gaps that let you see through to the metal frame. There were extra rings of greenery to put on between groups of branches, and then we’d load on everything we could find in the attic boxes to fill it out.

And last would be the tinsel, my personal favorite, flung willy-nilly all over the branches and ornaments, many of which were handmade as school projects. I loved my styrofoam egg carved out to hold a tiny nativity scene with a background painted in art class.

When we were teenagers we would go get a cut tree instead of the fake one. Some years Mom and Dad would head down to North Carolina and bring back a Frasier fir tied on the top of the car.

That’s the version I’ve always preferred in my own home.

Our Christmas morning growing up would continue with Dad lighting the laid wood in the fireplace. And once they had hot mugs in hand and a crackling fire going, we took our places around the room to open presents.

I know some years were lean, some were more generous in the amount of gifts we got. Funny thing is I don’t distinguish between them in my mind. I liked getting new things, but even better I liked having Dad home all day, watching him help prepare food.

Up until just the last couple years I would have my time with Dad in my head as I made his cornbread for my dressing and chopped the onions and celery like he always did at the kitchen table. All on Christmas morning.

And I liked having people over our house. We almost never had anyone over. I felt like people saw the preacher’s family as untouchable, off limits for the normal interactions I saw them having with everyone else.

So sitting around the dining room table there would be a few true friends to our family that I loved and feared and felt honored to spend this day with every year.

We’d eat at 2, and play games and try on new clothes or try out new things, and add wood to the fire, and drink hot chocolate and eat dessert or leftovers or both.

I don’t remember the t.v. ever being turned on unless we knew for sure there was a special show we wanted to watch together, and then only in the evening. Our time was spent interacting and cooperating with each other in games, and cooking and cleaning up in groups. I’d sneak off for solitary times to avoid overload by reading a book or writing for a while.

If I had to boil those growing up days down to a few words they wouldn’t focus on things. Togetherness, relaxation, feasting, companionship.

It was a magical day, when we might complain about the tasks we were asked to do, but we did it eventually because there was plenty of work to go around and the day wouldn’t be as much fun if we were waiting for chores to get done before we could play pinochle.

So as I prepare myself for our several Christmas celebrations over the next week or so, I’ll be running around trying to get my gifts bought, but I always reach a point where I look at my lists of what I’ve gotten and say that’s enough. I could always get more things, but we could also be just as happy with less.

I get to a point where I have to look inside and ask what I’m really hoping to get for Christmas. And while things are nice, I really want what I got in my childhood home of modest means and hard-working parents,

I want to gather together with people I love.

I want to not think about the constant stresses of life, and instead consciously let go of the hold they can have on me.

I want to cook and eat food that satisfies my heart and my stomach.

And I want to be with people who are on this journey of life alongside me, recharging and refreshing each other as we look ahead to the new year to come.

And I hope you can take time to celebrate in a way that leaves you better for all the hard work and planning.

Because Jesus didn’t come to make a lot of work for us once a year. He came to give us life. Abundant life.

And I’m ready to enjoy that abundance.