EL CAJON, Calif. (BP) – One snowy day in the 1940s, Robert White was working as a bellhop in the Grand Hotel in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, when a stranger showed up. The man was a songwriter needing peace and quiet. The Grand Hotel seemed the perfect spot. It was decorated for Christmas; and across the street, Frost Park was a winter wonderland with a beautiful Christmas tree of its own. The streets were bedecked for the season, and the local five-and-dime overflowed with candy canes.
The man left after a few days, and a couple of years later a popular new Christmas song hit the charts: “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.” Meredith Willson, the Broadway composer of The Music Man, wrote of a “tree in the Grand Hotel” and “one in the park as well, the sturdy kind that doesn’t mind the snow.”
Robert White is convinced his mysterious guest was none other than Meredith Willson, and that the song is a holiday description of picturesque Yarmouth on the Bay of Fundy. We may never know because Willson passed away before revealing his inspiration. But his words strike a chord with us wherever we live. Even here in Southern California—where sturdy trees never see the snow—I can’t help singing these words to myself as I see holiday decorations going up.
The problem is, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas earlier and earlier. The Christmas season comes too soon for me now. Our accelerated calendar isn’t driven by a spiritual emphasis, but by economic factors. Christmas is the peak season for retailers. Economists have coined a term – “Christmas Creep” – for the way retailers keep moving up the holiday season. I remember when we didn’t even think of Christmas tidings until December. Then came Black Friday. Then stores began opening on Thanksgiving. Now Hallmark Channel’s “Countdown to Christmas” movie schedule begins in October. Large stores begin their promotions in September, and theme parks begin putting up decorations in August. All this leaves a lot of room for Christmas fatigue.
Putting the brakes on an accelerated Christmas
It’s time to slow down a little so we can enjoy Christmas and rediscover its meaning. It wouldn’t hurt us to tap the brakes and relish the trip. By giving it some forethought, we can bypass the Christmas frenzy.
Consider this: Our Heavenly Father planned every detail of the first Christmas in advance, and He recorded His plans in the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. The Christ Child arrived right on schedule according to the foreknowledge of the Father. The Bible says, “He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you” (1 Peter 1:20). If God planned the first Christmas in advance, shouldn’t we follow His example and do some planning of our own?
Acts 20:28 says, “Take heed to yourselves.” Christmas can be a wonderful time of worship and witness, but we have to see ourselves and our circumstances clearly. We can’t lose ourselves in the chaos; we need to take heed to ourselves and to those for whom we’re responsible.
A is for Attitude
This begins with a worshipful attitude. Matthew 2:11 says of the Magi, “When they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him.”
Worship involves being still and knowing He is God. It includes exulting in the wonder of who He is and expressing our wonder in praise and prayer. Perhaps a little downsizing of our plans is in order. I read about a man who had lit up his lawn with thousands of lights for a quarter century. Cars lined up for blocks to see the sight. But now he’s calling it quits. His nervous system can’t keep up with the pressure. He sold all his equipment – thousands of lights, signs, sleighs, animated figures, village houses, and more – and used the money to offset the medical bills caused by the stress of the production.
B is for Boundaries
Scaling back on the externals of the season enables us to set boundaries, to budget our time and money, and to say “No” when necessary. Why go to every party? Why attend every function? Why volunteer for every opportunity? I’m not suggesting we become reclusive. Don’t cut out all your celebrations or bypass every opportunity for sharing Christmas cheer with those around you. But I think you’ll agree that the better moments of Christmas are often the quieter ones.
While you’re at it, set some financial boundaries too. A simple gift lovingly given is just as wonderful as an expensive one. Proverbs 17:1 says, “Better is a dry morsel with quietness, than a house full of feasting with strife.” The joy of our Christmas isn’t found in more and more presents but in the presence of more and more peace.
C is for Christ
The most important thing this season is seeking a spiritual connection to Jesus, and we can do that wherever we are. Sometimes the simpler our settings, the greater our understanding.
About the time Meredith Willson was writing “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas,” a missionary in Asia was discovering a very different side of that truth. Geoffrey T. Bull was a Scottish worker in Tibet. The Communists seized him and drove him across frozen mountains until he despaired of life. Late one afternoon, they staggered into a small village where Bull was given an upstairs room. After a meager supper, he was sent downstairs to feed the horses. It was dark and cold. He clambered down the notched tree trunk to find himself in blackness. His boots squished in the manure and straw on the floor. The fetid smell of animals was nauseating. The missionary expected to be kicked any moment.
“Then as I continued to grope my way in the darkness,” he later wrote, “it suddenly flashed into my mind. What’s today? I thought for a moment. In traveling, the days had become a little muddled in my mind. Suddenly it came to me. ‘It’s Christmas Eve.’ I stood suddenly still in that oriental manger. To think that my Savior was born in a place like this. To think that He came all the way from heaven to some wretched eastern stable, and what is more to think that He came for me. How men beautify the cross and the crib, as if to hide the fact that at birth we resigned Him to the stench of beasts and at death exposed Him to the shame of rogues. I returned to the warm clean room which I enjoyed even as a prisoner, bowed to thankfulness and worship.”