Christmas is an amazing time. There is a sense of Narnian magic in the air. The mystery of the Incarnation. Children experience this magic. The lights, the traditions, and of course, Santa Claus. They may not fully understand it, assuming it can be understood at all with the mind rather than the heart; but they sense that something is special about this time. As adults it is easy to become distracted.

We don’t even celebrate Santa at our house, and there is still a sense of excitement in the air. Part of it is related to the giving and receiving of gifts. Some of my fondest memories as a child are of anticipation of someone opening a gift I had carefully and thoughtfully chosen. I want to teach my children the same enjoyment that comes from giving. But, there is more than that.

If I seem like I’m struggling to put this into words, it’s because I am a bit. I am an adult trying to put the memory of a child’s experience into grownup words. Even with my best intentions, I have lost my perspective, some of my joy and wonder. Until just a few years ago, I could never sleep on Christmas Eve. It wasn’t only the presents or the anticipation of family togetherness, both as wonderful and stressful as that could be. I remember lying awake in my childhood bed, the room filled with the light of a Christmas window candle and feeling as though magic lay heavy in the air. Now I am so exhausted with preparations that I stay up too late and finally roll into bed exhausted.  I have lost something.

The Incarnation, God with us, is truly part of that deeper magic that C.S. Lewis was talking about. Something that we understand deep in our bones, though our minds have forgotten and our hearts have strayed. It was part of us from our creation. A savior who would become one of us so he could die for us. A birthday that was a prelude to an execution that would end in resurrection. But not end, not really, rather point us toward an infinitely better future that is beyond what our minds can comprehend.

Words and theology cannot fully explain why all of this makes my heart beat faster and my mind race with possibilities. I have heard the good news the shepherds were talking about and dared to believe it is true. A savior has been born to us. I can experience the wonder and joy again. But I need to let go. Let go of all the self-imposed responsibilities to create the picture postcard, perfect Christmas.

If you enjoy decorating your house, revel in it. But if it causes more stress than it produces delight, then simplify. If an elaborate Christmas meal fills your heart with joy; fill the house with the glorious fragrances of the holidays. But if at your house it always seems to end in acrid smoke and hurtful words, settle for something easier and do it with gladness. If hours of shopping or hand making gifts makes your heart sing, continue on brave woman. But if going to the mall makes you claustrophobic and you are allergic to anything crafty, then settle for simple gifts purchased online (or Etsy for that handmade touch that you didn’t have to sweat over).

If I have the best decorated house, the most delicious food and expensive and elaborate gifts but I lack wonder, I have gained nothing. (Excuse the paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 13). Worse than that, I have sacrificed my joy on the altar of holiday expectations. Grant yourself grace this year. Do more of the things you love, and only what you must of those that drain you. Gather close to those you love. Ask God to restore your joy and open your eyes to wonder this Christmas. Then set aside time to watch for it.

Do less, so you can experience more.