I was putting lights on my mom's Christmas tree a few weeks back, and I was reminded of a statement I'd heard at some point early in life - "If you squint your eyes when you look at the tree, the lights shine brighter." As a kid, I slept on the couch some nights during Christmas because I loved falling asleep by the fire and staring at the beauty of the tree. I fondly remember lying there in the stillness of night squinting my eyes to see the pretty lights really shine before I fell asleep. I'd then curl up with my blanket, close my eyes, and drift off in comfort - without a care in the world. It was Christmas.
Growing up, my mind overflowed with excitement and wonder throughout the holiday season. Driving through neighborhoods to admire Christmas lights, decorating the real tree in the living room - placing each special ornament in its own special spot. A festive wreath hung on my bedroom door, and every morning in December a piece of candy was waiting there for me. Baking cookies, spending time with friends, and thinking of ways to craft presents for family using my limited funds was all part of the season. Aside from the fun of Christmas, it was also a joyful time of celebration - observing Advent and learning that Jesus is the Light of the World. Attending a candle light Christmas Eve service and reading in Luke 2 of our Savior's birth filled me with awe. Needless to say, I never thought there would be a time when Christmas didn't feel like Christmas.
Then one day, as I inevitably got older and moved away from the traditions of my childhood, I realized something was different. The holidays were cold and busy, lacking all signs of warmth and peace. Excitement had turned to stress, and wonder quickly subsided only to be replaced by an office desk. Time was short and creativity was merely a dream I once had. It seemed as though everything I knew of Christmas had suddenly evaporated and all that remained was the dry fountain of winter. I found myself longing to make this time of year feel the way it did so long ago. I was searching for even a tiny remnant of the unspoken and unexplainable "holiday spirit" I once knew. For several years (including this one) it was an internal struggle of mine, and no matter how many fixes I thought I had, none of them made a difference. Listening to Christmas music all day every day, making homemade hot chocolate, watching Christmas movie marathons, and decorating the tree now fell short. Even Christmas Eve services were steeped in routine and lacked genuine motives. I tried anything I could to "bring Christmas back," never realizing that wasn't the issue.
I wish I could tell you I found the answer, or that I have the secret solution to remedy the situation and make it all better. I don't, but what I did realize (and this is going to sound depressing, but hear me out), is that there is no solution - the holidays will never feel the way they did when I was a child. It is just the natural progression of life, and that's ok. This was something I had never considered until recently - it's ok.
I'll admit, it took a little while to accept but once I did, I discovered a whole new appreciation for the season, and it's just as beautiful in its own way. I find joy in the differences, instead of disappointment that it's "just not the same." I'm able to read about our Prince of Peace with eyes to see and ears to hear - flooded with thankfulness rather than a burden to fix something that's not broken. I still love Christmas music and gift exchanges, decorations and time with family, watching Elf and drinking wassail. I've just learned that they are wonderful additions to the season, not solutions to a problem. With the pressure gone, I've been free to experience the holidays as they are in this moment.
And it all started with one look at those lights.
So with all of that said, if you're feeling stuck and Christmas just doesn't feel like Christmas, sit down and give a squinting look towards the tree. Life may be different now, but the lights are still bright.