I don’t want to write about “the meaning of Christmas.” I don’t know what that is yet. So I want to write about space.
There’s this beautiful story I heard once about a mother and daughter out skiing, and they took a walk late at night to see the snow falling on the trees and in the lights. At one point, they found themselves at the foot of an enormous pine tree, an enclave shaded from the swirling flakes. They paused. They listened to the silence. And the daughter looked at her mother and said, “Is that what God sounds like?”
Christmastime is not easy. Too often, it’s a reminder of all our world is not. The songs on the radio sing for peace on earth, but a massacre just occurred in California. Department stores are all decked out for the holidays, but too many people can’t afford what’s being sold. All the heartwarming movies remind us of the perfect families we don’t have, the good memories we don’t have, the presents and money and time we don’t have.
We get stressed. We get tired. We would be anyway, probably; college is hard, and life is hard, and we all carry a lot of baggage that we don’t tell anyone about, and it gets really heavy when nobody offers to help us hold it. And then Christmas comes along and tends to kind of add to it all.
But still, in the middle of it all, there are shaded spaces.
There’s the way lights look on foggy mornings. Free coffee in O’Neill. Good playlists on Spotify. Good people sitting across from you in the Chocolate Bar, or who let you share their classroom during study days.
There’s every minute you spend procrastinating on that paper—watching Friends, taking too long to make dinner, staying up too late in the library because you and your roommate spent too long on Buzzfeed. There’s the feeling you get when you finally turn that paper in. Somehow, you got there.
There are people who care about you and people you care about.
There is the promise of starting over, starting something new. And sometimes, the promise, the waiting for fulfillment, is every bit as beautiful as the real thing.
There are all these things that, granted, exist pretty much any other time of year. But their pre-existence does not make them less meaningful.
Before Thanksgiving, I was given a “grateful calendar.” It was just rows of blank lines, two per day for the thirty-some days between Thanksgiving and Christmas—a line for someone I’m grateful for, and a line for something I’m grateful for, every day. Astoundingly enough, that paper didn’t fall into the black hole that is my backpack, and it’s now tacked to my wall.
I’ve made a point of writing a name and a thing next to every day. Some of the names and things I’ve written are things I expected to write—my roommates, the Appalachia program. Others are more surprising—a teammate who I don’t know well but who made my day better, my thesis that I mostly complain about but have slowly started to be proud of.
At the end of each day, I find myself deliberating between more options than I expected, to choose just one person and one thing to be grateful for. I find myself marveling at how blessed I am to have those options.
I hope that this Christmas, you find something to be grateful for, that you find the joyful spaces in every day. I hope you find it in the spaces between darkness and sunrise, when we totally shouldn’t still be awake. Or the space between your alarm going off and actually getting out of bed. Or all the spaces filled between starting a hug and letting go.
I hope this season, you find God in loud music, quiet laughter, and silence.
And I hope you find a meaning to Christmas for yourself.