But with each passing year I become more (and more) disillusioned with Christmas gifts.
There’s a growing feeling of discord in “asking for” and buying Christmas gifts for the adults in my life.
NOT A SCROOGE
Don’t get me wrong, Christmas gifts are a wonderful childhood memory, and I absolutely love giving gifts to the children in my life. I still do. I always will.
And I still can’t help but give small finds to my friends–even if it is from the dollar bin at Target. But the big gifts for adults? Wrapped and stuffed under the tree? Something nudges my heart saying, I’ve grown out of that. Christmas time has changed. Somewhere along the way, the gifts I want during this time of year changed.
Actually, there was a moment when I know the feeling started.
Several years ago, I experienced the craziness of “Black Friday” for the very first time. It seemed like a very grown-up thing to do. And so I did.
In the wee morning hours after Thanksgiving I pulled into a very-full mall parking lot. It was sensory overload. The Christmas music was loud, people walking around buzzing with excitement. Santa was already in “center-court” with a line of children. Some already badly behaved. And there I stood, a little stunned, and unsure where to go.
I grabbed an over-caffeinated drink to give me the energy that I apparently needed for the BIGGEST and shiniest department store.
The store’s security sensors were ringing like obnoxious Christmas bells. The perfume ladies assaulted incoming guests with scents better left in their pretty bottles.
This wasn’t the best start to my shopping experience. But it wasn’t going to deter me. I was at the mall. EARLY! On Black Friday. Determined to be done with ALL my shopping that day.
Like a moth to flame, I headed to tables with big red signs indicating the best deals.
Rounding the displays, aggressive women pushed past me to snatch things before others could. Some deals were good, but nothing said “perfect gift”. I was even willing to settle on a less than perfect but still “on the wish list” gift. Yet I found nothing.
I had no idea that this would become the theme for the day. From store to store—I came and left empty-handed. And at each turn becoming appalled at how people acted. There was no joy and certainly no peace. It was grab, grab, grab and get, get, get.
In an odd and out-of-place moment for the day’s events a strange thing happened. I found solace. Peace.
By pure accident, I walked into a dimly lit candle store. It wasn’t crowded. There were no sale signs or show of the day’s chaos. Instead it was warm. Inviting. Out of the darkness played soft and soothing music. It felt like walking into a candle grotto of a church. There was solace and reverence. In that store, in that moment, time slowed down. I began a walk down a wintery-memory-wonder-land.
The first aroma I noticed was spicy cinnamon apples, and was instantly taken back to a time of sipping cider in the cold while searching for Christmas trees with my family.
The store beckoned me further into its sanctuary; the smell of toasted vanilla floated in the air. I thought of my mom baking Christmas cookies.
As I felt pulled to the very back of the store, a display of stars and angels and everything sparkly put a sense of wonder in me. Sacred wonder.
All the way in the back of the store, in the dark and solace, I lost the sound of the mall. I listened to a soft music box version of O Holy Night. A bouquet of juniper berries and spruce filled the space. I was caught in a sacred and still moment.
I was in, what the spiritual Celtics call, “thin places.” It’s described as a feeling, moment, place where the boundary between heaven and earth becomes thin. Especially thin. It’s a place where we can sense the Divine. It’s a place where we are unmasked. Where we get real–if we allow it. It’s a place where our souls are beckoned to transform.
FINDING THIN PLACES
And right there, in a candle store, my eyes welled over. I realized I had lost the heart of Christmas. I didn’t know how many years I had forgotten the true meaning, but it caught me by surprise–right there in the midst of a crazy Black Friday morning.
That’s what “thin places” do.
Make us pay attention.
In that moment I felt a bit like The Grinch when he finally learns an important life lesson; my heart beat harder and a lump grew in my throat while I gazed onto angels bathed in candlelight.
I quietly left the store, out the mall, and into my car.
I was empty-handed but my heart was full.
PRESENCE not PRESENTS
In the mall that day, I experienced a sacred presence. I recaptured the wonder of the season. And it takes presence to do that. Not presents.
This season brings us a gift far greater than anything at the mall. It brings a gift of forgiveness. And if we are open and available–we can give and receive it.
Because the ultimate story of Christmas is about forgiving. And in forgiving there is a quiet hope. A presence of joy. A sacred connection.
Christmas, it’s about presence – not presents. The presence of family, God, forgiveness, and love.
It’s about things that matter. The thin places we make for ourselves in the lighting of an Advent candle. The thin places we make for others in grace and forgiving. The things we can hold and treasure in our hearts.