By MARY HOOD HART
Are you ready for Christmas? Somebody asked me that the other day. And I answered honestly: No, I haven’t even started. It’s that time of year again when strangers strike up conversations about Christmas preparedness — as if we’re all gearing up to face a threatening storm. Indeed, my Christmas preparations are often as last minute as those I make for bad weather.
My parents, who live in the mountains, frequently inform me, their coast-dwelling daughter, when a big storm’s coming my way (yes, after enduring Hurricane Hugo I should know better). Since I rarely watch TV, keep the radio tuned to music, and don’t leave home to work, I’m often among the last to hear up-to-the-minute weather reports. By the time I hit the stores for flashlights, batteries and bottled water, the shelves are almost bare. While Christmas is certainly more predictable than a storm, and far more pleasant, I still have trouble realizing it’s on its way.
That’s because the stores start decorating and Christmas catalogs start filling the mailbox too early — even before Halloween. So, when I start seeing the first hints of Christmas, I ignore them. I convince myself the advertisers trying to lure me into Christmas purchases are the greedy big brothers of the little boy who cried wolf. I tell myself I have plenty of time. Disturbed by the rampant commercialism of a holy season, I ignore the first clues that Christmas is near.
Yes, until the season is undeniably upon me, I don’t even think about preparing for Christmas — except when people ask me if I’m ready. Then, depending on my mood, I either panic or slip further into denial. When strangers find out I have four children, they are relentless. “You should be ready by now,” they warn.
To be honest, I feel I’m doing well when I have the Advent calendar hanging up on Dec. 1. Many seasons past, my children have had to take turns opening flaps for those first dew days of the month that slipped by before I could get the calendar up. This year, the Advent calendar will be ready.
Apart from that, Christmas preparations and rituals in my household will follow in the ensuing weeks, but not in an organized way. Don’t misunderstand. My lack of preparation isn’t a protest against commercialism. I’d be fooling myself if I tried to find virtue or meaning in my weakness. I admire people whose Christmas preparations are tidy and well-timed — people who follow the same rituals year after year. I envy people who designate some days for baking, some for shopping, some for wrapping, and then actually go through with the plan.
And I believe children benefit from structure. They thrive knowing the family is following the same traditions they remember from years past. They delight in each ritual — even something as simple as lighting a candle — and anticipate it with such pleasure. Yes, even children appreciate being well-organized this time of year. Though I don’t usually practice what I preach, I do believe in following a Christmas plan.
Yet I also know that even the best of plans can fall apart. Indeed, whenever I feel my jaws start to clench over not being ready for Christmas, I remember last year at this time, and I know everything will turn out all right. Last December, I became suddenly ill and spent two occasions in the hospital, the second time for a surgical procedure on Dec. 23. If complications developed, and there was a slight chance they would, I’d have spent Christmas morning in a hospital room in Charleston — more than two hours from home. As it turned out, thanks to prayer and expert medical care, I returned from the hospital on Christmas Even to a house full of jubilant kids — and unfinished preparations.
Had I been better organized, my husband would not have had so much to do — wrapping presents and filling stockings on Christmas Eve while I lay in bed recovering, too weak to help. Then again, though not ready for Christmas in the normal sense of the word, our family was more prepared to greet our Savior than we’d ever been before. We were home together, I was healing, and we were all deeply grateful to God.
Mary Hood Hart lives in Calabash, N.C., with her husband, Jim, and their four children, ages 6 to 14. In addition to The Miscellany, Hart is a columnist for The Mirror, diocesan newspaper of Springfield — Cape Girardeau, Mo.