I entered my first Christmas season in Cincinnati with enthusiasm, passion and a desire to do my first Christmas as an adult the right way. I was ready to be merry. I was ready to show hospitality. I was ready to rest and establish rituals that reminded me of the “true meaning” of Christmas.
It’s probably not hard to believe that I fell short of these goals. A car accident three weeks before Christmas left me unsettled and worried. I forgot to read my advent devotional more times than not. Only one neighbor came to the Christmas party my husband and I planned for our apartment complex.
Despite the ways I “failed” at Christmas, I found inspiration and encouragement in an unusual source: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. In the days leading up to Christmas, my husband and I would sit down on our couch together and I would read the children’s short chapter book out loud. To my surprise, the story of a small church Christmas pageant gone awry reminded me of the beauty of the season, and I realized the power of stories to shape us and keep us grounded in what really matters.
Maybe you’re entering this Christmas season like I was three years ago: ready to get Christmas “right.” You have a holiday bucket list, reflecting your aspirations for the season. While goals can be helpful and keep us rooted in what matters, we need to be reminded there’s far more to Christmas than accomplishing our goals. And maybe, like me, you need a few stories to inspire you. Here are three of my fictional friends who keep me grounded during the holidays, and maybe they’ll do the same for you
Jo March from Little Women: Those familiar with Little Women know the story begins just before Christmas Day as the March sisters lament not having an abundance of presents as they had in years past. On Christmas morning, they awake to find a few small gifts from their mother and proceed to celebrate with one another. As they sit down to their much-anticipated Christmas breakfast, their mother enters and tells them of an impoverished family in their town, and asks if they might consider giving their breakfast to the family.
“I’m so glad you came before we began!” Jo replies, and the sisters quickly pack up their breakfast feast and walk through town to deliver it to the family.
Too often, I’m like the March sisters, mourning what I don’t have this time of the year and tempted to turn inward. Jo reminds me to be ready to give to others and look for opportunities to be generous with what I have.
Maybe you’re single this Christmas and you would rather be dating. Maybe you lack money to decorate your apartment the way you’d like for the holiday. Maybe you recently moved to a new town and are still looking for community. Don’t let your social, monetary, and relational poverty constrain you. Like Jo March, look for opportunities to be generous with what the Lord has given you instead of hoarding it for your pleasure.
Jerry Gergich from Parks and Recreation: Jerry Gergich is the bumbling, klutzy office manager of the the Pawnee Parks and Recreation Department. Though his co-workers often make fun of, belittle and dismiss him, he consistently responds with kindness and understanding.
In season five, Jerry and his wife host an elaborate Christmas open house for their friends, neighbors and co-workers. The same evening, a group of his co-workers plan a secret dinner without inviting him, yet are offended when they drive by his home and see that he’s hosting a Christmas party without inviting them. While gazing at his party with longing from the car, the co-workers remember that they automatically have Jerry’s emails deleted in their inboxes. They review their emails and find their invitations.
They sheepishly approach the home and knock, realizing their unkindness and wondering how Jerry will respond to them. When the door opens, Jerry welcomes them with joy, kindness and hospitality, inviting them to join the festivities.
At Christmas time, I’m tempted to insulate myself with the people I like and I find easy to be around. Yet Jesus calls us to love the unlovely and move toward them in compassion, just as Jesus moved toward us and came to earth to live among us. Jerry shows me the beauty of an ordinary person showing hospitality to those we find difficult and frustrating in this season.
The Narrator from The Best Christmas Pageant Ever: When the Herdman siblings decide they want to star in the local church’s Christmas pageant, everyone is shocked and not sure what will happen. The Herdman children are known as the worst (and among the poorest) kids in the town. The Narrator of the story, a young girl participating in the pageant who remains unnamed, offers a witty and poignant narration of the events leading up to and during the pageant.
When Imogene (the oldest Herdman sister who plays Mary in the pageant) burps the baby doll standing in for Jesus, a snooty pageant participant turns to the Narrator and proclaims that she does not think it’s very nice to burp the baby Jesus as if he had colic. She then asks: “Do you suppose he could have had colic?”
The Narrator muses internally: “He could have had colic, or been fussy, or hungry like any other baby. After all, that was the whole point of Jesus — that he didn’t come down on a cloud like something out of “Amazing Comics,” but that he was born and lived… a real person.”
This Christmas, instead of completing a perfect Advent devotional or trying to attain a certain level of festivity through activity, I’m going to turn my attention and heart to the incarnation of Jesus. I will keep my eyes fixed on Jesus and marvel at the wonder of God becoming man just like the Herdmans and the Narrator do in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.
We all know it’s easy to find ourselves overwhelmed and busy with the holidays. Through looking to stories of the season, we have tools to help us focus on what is essential and inspire us to celebrate the birth of our Savior well. Jo, Jerry and the characters in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever have helped me in that endeavor. Maybe they’ll help you too.