The Season Of Great Expectations
It’s that time of the year again. There has been overeating and overshopping. The malls were filled with children and teenagers.
There was the clamour of trolleys as they crashed together and the swoosh of credit cards as they were being swiped.
It seems that many people work hard and shop hard in anticipation of Christmas Day. Families expect the perfect roast lamb, the perfect gammon and the perfect pudding.
It’s all a bit much really. Am I the only one who’s feeling overwhelmed?
There are so many expectations at this time of the year. Young children expect their parents to buy them the perfect toy. Husbands and wives will expect the most thoughtful gifts from each other.
In my own household, there are many expectations over the Christmas celebrations. I’m expected to clean up after every meal while my uncles sit and drink beer.
I’m expected to answer questions as to why I am currently single and what I plan to do about it.
Members of my extended family will also ask me about my current job, how long it’s going to last and what I plan on doing next. “When are you getting a master’s degree?’ they will ask me. “Do it before you get older”, as though there were an expiration date on my intellect.
And I am expected to not take offence at anyone who comments on my supposed weight gain.
Since when did Christmas become an open door for interrogation and inquisition?
I must remember to prepare a five-year plan for my life and present it by means of flowcharts and spreadsheets for the next Christmas. That way I can avoid the many questions, and in some cases the apparent disappointments that come from the answers I give.
I am always torn between telling people what they want to hear and what I actually think, plan or dream—very often those two things are not the same.
And thus Christmas has, over the years, become a time of awkward conversations with family members whom I have not seen for long.
Being too open about my struggles throughout the year would have them see me as weak and lacking in confidence. Being optimistic about things would have them see me as naïve and inexperienced.
So I deliberately fade into the background and become distant among the festivities.
Through it all I am completely distracted and lose focus on the person whose birth gave rise to all these celebrations. Among the family squabbles and awkwardness, I forget that Christmas is about Christ.
And so one wonders how, amid the mass consumerism and family pressures that many of us experience, we survive Christmas and all the great expectations? We do so by rediscovering its meaning for ourselves.
In an ideal world I would search the province for a spectacular Advent wreath. I would buy four candles and place them in the middle of the wreath. I would light each one at each Sunday of Advent and I would pray. I would offer prayers for myself, for my family, for my friends, for my colleagues, for the world.
I am yet to find a sparkling Advent wreath, but I will not let that stop me from praying. God has a way of placing his presence among us. If we draw ourselves away from the world and all its expectations, even briefly, we may just hear the cry of that little baby born in Bethlehem.
He longs for us to gaze upon him and to remember the world to which we are called.
We eat, drink and watch the streets light up at night. But look up to the Saviour’s holy light.