Y’all have all seen the movie, right? National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation? In the scene where Clark W. Griswold has been working so long and hard to hang lights all over the outside of their house, and finally, after one mishap, then another and another, the lights are on. Power is diminished in the town, and the Griswold home can likely be seen from space. And the sheer delight and joy on Clark’s face as he wishes each family member, wife, children, parents, in-laws, and Cousin Eddie a Merry Christmas! It is magical.
And in the midst of his joy and peace, Clark’s father-in-law Art, after Clark has wished him a Merry Christmas and thanked him for being there to celebrate with his family, says, “The little lights. They’re not twinkling.”
Sigh. I always find myself sighing for poor Clark.
“Thanks for noticing, Art.”
He worked so hard to make this Christmas magical for those he loves, and what he gets is a bit short of the appreciation he deserves.
I understand his letdown.
Speaking of Christmas shows, has anyone seen Alvin and the Chipmunks’ Christmas? In it Alvin gives away his special harmonica to a very sick little boy in the hopes it will lift his spirits and help him get well. He doesn’t tell Dave, who is expecting Alvin to perform with his harmonica at the Christmas concert. When Alvin goes to the store in the hopes of buying another one, he finds he cannot afford it. A sweet “little old lady” comes up and, for reasons I missed because I was doing the dishes, tells Alvin that it would help her and bring her joy to buy the harmonica for a young fellow and would he let her buy it for him? Problem solved. At the very end of the show, Santa Claus makes his trip and goes home, walking into the living room where Mrs. Claus sits knitting in front of the fire. She asks how his trip was, and he tells her it was good, she really should come with him sometime, she needs to get out of the house. She tells him oh no, she’ll leave all that to him. And then as he starts snoozing, she turns around and looks at the camera and winks. And it’s HER.
Magic. Right there.
My oldest talks about her “spirit animal” and makes me laugh when she tells me who it is. Well.
So yeah. Walt Disney is my spirit animal.
Actually a combination of him and Mrs. Claus. With maybe a little Clark thrown in for good measure.
I love being a part of the making of the magic.
Of creating and orchestrating it. Of lighting things up.
It’s my favorite part of the whole Christmas experience. Probably why I’m up until 3 a.m. most years. The staging and creating and setting up the magic. Wanting it to be just so. After weeks of preparation, it all comes down to this night.
And then, Christmas morning comes all too soon. (Well not according to my children, but you know.) And while their little eyes dance and the house is filled with laughter and the smell of apple cider and the sound of creative play and working together to build and tell stories, the magic is like fire it is so bright. It is like the moment when the Griswold house is finally all lit up. (I can almost hear the Hallelujah chorus, or at least “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” playing in my head.)
And then the day after comes. December 26. I put the Christmas music on to play, and I clean up the aftermath of the meals from the day before. (Yes, I filled the sink and left it. Don’t judge. It happens–just keeping it real.) And for whatever reason, I feel like Clark, when Art points out one small thing missing in the midst of all the beauty. And my heart is heavy. The tears want to come, and I’m not quite sure why.
So if you are like me, and the day of December 26 is hard for you, know you are not alone. I understand. I envy those who have extended family to celebrate with and continue their “Christmas-ing” on through the weekend. We went to eat with Mess Cat and her family tonight, and it was fun, but I did not hear a single “Merry Christmas” anywhere. I’m the weirdo who wants to keep saying it straight through to January 6, Epiphany. But I didn’t. I just didn’t.
Maybe that’s exactly why the person who wrote the Twelve Days of Christmas wrote it. I looked and could not find who it was attributed to, but maybe it was someone who needed to carry on with the joy and the magic and the lights for more than just one day.
Tonight I wish for you, if you are struggling with a Christmas that didn’t quite go as planned–the lights didn’t twinkle as advertised, a gift didn’t go over as you’d hoped, someone you care about didn’t make time to visit, you feel lost and sad as you’re missing someone this Christmas, or you just don’t even know what it is, just know that something’s out of place today–know that it is okay. It’s not a good feeling, but you are not alone. You’re not crazy or sick or maladjusted. (Or if you are, there’s at least two of us.) Even if it’s because you didn’t get the one thing you would have really loved to receive as a gift, it’s okay, you are not selfish. You are human. We really set ourselves up, don’t we? The Walt Disneys and Mrs. Clauses and Clark Griswolds and the Merry Magic Makers of the world. We work hard to make beautiful and fun things happen, to create the “holiday experience” that we hope will bring joy to others, sometimes even for folks we have never met. And then in the end, we are left with an empty theater, a sleeping Santa and elves, dirty cookie sheets in the sink, and someone to point out the one thing or several that didn’t go as planned. (And sometimes that someone is our very own selves.) And today our hearts hurt for what we didn’t get to do, for what there wasn’t time or resources to make happen, for the Christmas books not read, the homemade gifts or ornaments or cookies not made, the movies not watched, the visits not planned–all of the things we told ourselves back late December last year or this November would happen. This Christmas would be different.
Grace, my friends, grace. For you and for me. It’s okay.
I’m trying to tell myself it’s okay that the lights aren’t twinkling, despite my best, frantic efforts. (Yes, some days I did feel like Clark when he was swinging from the ladder with no one to spot him.) I’m trying not to set up grand expectations for next year. It’s all about making the magic the best I can in that moment. And if the lights don’t twinkle, then well, maybe I need to step outside the box and open and close my eyes really fast. You know, come up with another way to make it happen. And other things I just have to let go.
Because I think that people don’t remember Walt Disney’s flops as much as they do the great ones–like Mary Poppins (yes the new movie is on my want to do list). I’m betting Clark’s family didn’t remember years later that the lights didn’t twinkle that year. After all, it was amazing! And I’m hoping that I will be able to hold on to the magic that did happen this year, and not think about all the things I couldn’t or didn’t make happen. After all, Mrs. Claus is only one person, same as you and me. Don’t be down because not everyone recognized your efforts. Or be disappointed in yourself. The most important thing is to love on folks as best we can. And as often as we can.
That’s the magic I remember most about my Mama. She could make any moment magical with her love and generosity and a laugh that could shake her whole body when she got really tickled. Tonight, as I close my eyes and hope for sleep to come, that’s what I will remember and think about. And give thanks for. Because while I am sure that missing her is part of where the blues from today are coming from, I know that she would have none of that. “Let’s make it a happenin’!” she’d say when we needed something to boost our spirits. My friends who are struggling today, know you are loved, no matter what holiday magic you were or were not able to create. No matter what you are carrying on your hearts and minds. Go and love on somebody that needs you. Let someone love on you. And share some laughter. And most of all, let someone close to you know they matter. That is a gift we all really want, isn’t it? Best of all, it’s free for the giving.
And hey, don’t worry about those little lights not twinkling…..if they’re on at all you done good, Clark, real good. 😉 (…..and if they’re not, I won’t tell. ‘Course in my book, you still have ten days left to turn them on…..only if you want to)
Merry Christmas to all!
(there, I said it, and it felt great!)