Setting down appearances.

Some of you know that I don’t like Christmas. I went through a phase of detesting it, but I’m mostly up to simply not liking it.

When I unpack it, the problem is expectations.

When I was a kid, we had a family tradition of Christmas Eve photos. My dad’s camera had a timer, so we were took selfies before they were cool. We sat around the table, my parents and sisters and I. Dad set the timer and took one photo of us smiling. Then he set the timer and took one of us praying. We bowed our heads over bowls of oyster stew. It was a Scandinavian tradition of some sort, the oysters. It was followed by Swedish meatballs, mashed or boiled potatoes, and rice pudding.

I’m not a Scandinavian traditionalist.  I don’t like seafood, white sauces, meatballs, mashed or boiled potatoes. I didn’t like rice pudding. Starting the Christmas evening giving thanks for a meal I gagged down felt duplicitous, like I was putting up with the meal to get to the presents.

In later years, I’ve been part of Christmas Eve services as a planner, performer, speaker, technician, all of which have significant expectations.  I’ve worried constantly about getting the right presents for people, getting the right people presents, responding appropriately to the presents I receive, and our little kids responding appropriately. I’ve worried about all the good cheer around hurting the people who are sad because of deaths in the family or broken relationships or unrealized expectations.

Eyore is my favorite Christmas character, the donkey in the stable who said, “I knew we should have hurried. Of course there aren’t any rooms. Why are the angels going to the shepherds when they could put together an Ikea bedroom set for all of us?”

But as I’m writing about meals with Jesus this Advent, I’m thinking that I’ve been so busy worrying about the food and decorations that I’ve been missing the meals. The relationship with him was the main course, not the menu.

I’ll see what I can do.

As long as I don’t have to eat oyster stew.

4 thoughts on “Setting down appearances.

  1. David

    I struggle with Christmas too Jon. I also struggle with the boiled potatoes in Scandinavia. Out of all the ways to cook potatoes why boil them all the time? But I don’t mind the fish or the meatballs.


  2. Steve

    Love this one Jon – especially the gift worrying. I also get sad on Christmas Day night – brooding sad; desperate sad. But then the next day is St. Stephen’s Day, my patron saint (plus Christmas is OVER). This year, I’ll create a new tradition maybe – smoke a cigar to John Coltrane’s ” A Love Supreme.” And I’ll look forward to the next Communion.


    1. Jon Swanson

      You know, Steve, the idea of creating traditions (habits) is powerful. Something to look forward to and something to do. Like Communion, actually. Thinks for helping me think about this piece.


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