Christmas Present

There is nothing like winter car trouble to bring out an inner Scrooge at Christmas. Walking outside into a wind so cold you feel your capillaries wither inside your quickly chapping fingers. Laboriously scraping off your car with a brush that is just too short for you to reach the other side, which means stepping in not one, but two snow banks. Watching said car get towed because it refused to start. Bah! I say. And humbug! I actually said something stronger at the time.

A bit lingering childhood chipped off my soul and fell into an abyss of reality the day I bought that cursed scraper. Today, and the next and the next, a whole new pile of snow will be there—a wet and sloppy metaphor for adult problems that no one can scrape off except me. And the snow will monotonously appear until I die.

But maybe before that, I’ll be visited by a shrouded, unspeaking spectre that will point silently to a snow covered stone, which I’ll sweep clear with a phantom car scraper to reveal my early grave:

Here lies Me:
A victim to a winter of discontent
She complained of problems in life,
only to realize, in death,
they weren’t that bad and most people have far bigger problems every day.

(I plan on having a HUGE gravestone to fit all that.)

I never identified with Scrooge until this Christmas. It’s so easy to be Scrooge. Petty, noxious, whiny, cynical. Dickens also got something right with the ghosts, weird Victorian gothic stuff aside. Memories of the past, perspective in the present, and hope for the future are potent antidotes for breakouts of “the Scrooge” in the bleak midwinter.

Christmas Past

I prayed for White Christmases when I was a kid. One warmer Christmas Eve, I looked at our brown front yard with a sincere disappointment. Because snow, Christmas, cookies, the tree, sledding, hot chocolate, and the whole beautiful holiday from Advent to Epiphany is simply the best when you are a kid, especially in the LaPlaca household. My parents took Christmas seriously, from the Christmas village with three running train lines zipping around the base of the  tree to literally yards of of garland my dad still weaves, every year, by hand. His quick fingers expertly wiring together fir, cedar, and holly. Our house bursted with cookies, and the door revolved with visitors.

Now, I look back and wonder: how on earth did my parents have enough energy to make our elaborate Christmas and still shovel the snow off their proverbial cars? But they always made time, and my Christmas memories are warm to the touch. These memories are also inspiring. I don’t have time to throw a pity party when I’ve got cookies to bake, and my own tree to trim, and a real Christmas party to throw. After all, I am my parents’ daughter.

Christmas Present

Scrooge’s biggest problem is perspective. He hasn’t learned to look for the right things—the kind and beautiful things—in his Christmas seasons. There is nothing like winter car trouble to make you see the ubiquity of kindness. I spent a miserable evening waiting for the towing guy to come retrieve my car. I had to skip a Christmas party and instead fidgeted around my phone until the dude came, hours after he was expected. But in that time, one friend lent me her car, another promised to let me use their third car long term, my housemate fed me stew, and then some other friends out of the blue said they wanted to help with my car expenses. People are crazy kind. Their generosity can feel like the healthy slap and “snap out of it!” from the Holy Spirit.

Christmas Yet to Come

Really, the Christmas season is all about looking forward. It took three persistent yuletide spectres to bring Scrooge to a point where he could look into his future, with Tiny Tim on his knee (who did not die!), and proclaim, “God Bless Us Every One!” It’s a statement of hope spoken in the present and into the future.

I love the hymn  “See Amid the Winter Snow,” with its wonderful opening imperative to notice, in this cold season, the sweet reality of Christ’s birth, or, as the song says, “redemption’s happy dawn.” Even amid an earthly season of muddy snow banks, long lines, and defunct cars, each Advent Sunday distracts me into hope. So how can I stay discontented? I consider the dawn of the church year, the beginning of a new cycle—past, present, and future grace.

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