December 8, 2023

Joyful Witness / Kimberly Pohovey

Christmas, like life, is a time to simply love and be loved

Kimberly PohoveyI think the growing popularity of Hallmark Christmas movies can be attributed to folks idealizing what they want Christmas to look like.

A snow-covered serene scene in the country with an exquisitely decorated Victorian home. Blissful families laughing together while they bake beautifully iced Christmas cookies or gingerbread houses. An entire village of smiling people gathering in the town square to light a picturesque Christmas tree, and of course, sip on someone’s secret homemade hot chocolate recipe.

Does this sound or look like your Christmas? If it does, you are very blessed, but I would venture to guess that no one’s Christmas is ever Hallmark perfect. And our efforts at trying to make it so often ends in chaos, burnout, short tempers and frustration, which is ironic because the whole point of Christmas is the joy of God’s love.

When I picture that first Christmas when Christ was born, I envision nothing but peace, calm and glorious rejoicing in that simple manger in a cave in Bethlehem. Despite the meager accommodations, smelly animals and cold weather, that was the perfect Christmas.

I’m as guilty as anyone wanting Christmas to be perfect. Like many of you, I feverishly buy all the gifts, often wrapping them at the last minute. I furiously decorate our home, inside and out. I bake lots of cookies, make homemade gifts like paintings or jewelry, and franticly address and mail nearly 100 Christmas cards. To compound my personal Christmas chaos, I work in a field where our busiest time of the year occurs during the month of December—causing longer hours and more stress.

In reality, my Christmas might have looked perfect, but it was far from being so.

When I was a young girl, I absolutely loved every single thing about Christmas. With my birthday a week before, it always felt like the most magical time of the year.

I still love Christmas, but in past years, I know I’ve let the natural hustle

and bustle of the holiday season overwhelm me. And in my pursuit of Martha Stewart-like perfection, I always ended up frustrated that I could never quite achieve it. In truth, I’ve probably driven my family crazy trying to manufacture the perfect Christmas—which was the opposite of my intentions.

In more recent years, I’ve taken a step back to examine my motivations, weed out unreal expectations and figure out how to more peacefully coexist with the holiday trimmings.

First and foremost, I remind myself that the Christmas season is to be enjoyed and celebrated. Ultimately, it is all about God’s love for us manifested in Jesus’ birth—not grand gifts, over-the-top decorations or lavish parties. While nothing is wrong with any of these, they do become problematic when we lose ourselves in the chaos and lose sight of what is truly important.

I have done a few things to help maintain a more relaxed balance between what I want Christmas to be and what is realistic. First, I have found that reading daily Advent reflections provide the tranquility I desire this time of year. The last few years, I’ve had a series of surgeries at year’s end. While I wouldn’t wish surgery on anyone, it forced me to admit that I couldn’t do everything on my Christmas preparations list.

A couple of those years, the trade-off was not putting up a Christmas tree or making homemade cookies. And you know what I found out? Life and Christmas went on beautifully despite the fact that I didn’t complete the whole list. In fact, I felt relief in not even trying.

This year, I have found that starting preparations much earlier than usual helps me space out the tasks. As of late November, I already had my Christmas cards finished, baked some cookies and made candy to share with others, the majority of my gifts were purchased (thank you, Amazon) and the inside of my house was decorated. And I thoroughly enjoyed having less-rushed time to spend on these projects and experienced the pure joy of Christmas.

While I still appreciate the Hallmark Christmas movie, I no longer view them as the perfect representation of Christmas. Christmas can be just as messy as life. And the point of life (and Christmas) is simply to love and be loved.

(Kimberly Pohovey is a member of St. Jude Parish in Indianapolis. She is the director of major and planned gifts for the archdiocese.) †

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