Bear with me here. It may take a while, but I’m actually hoping to say something worthwhile. Stop snickering.
I used to like Christmas. Used to love it, in fact. As a kid, I would make lists for my parents, and usually got exactly what I wanted. As high schoolers, a friend and I threw huge annual parties; they were the seasonal event in our circle. People even mentioned those parties when signing my high school yearbook.
As an adult I again made, and still make, wishlists at Christmas. And now of course, I even publicize them on this blog.
For many years I worked in a church that did Christmas to the nines, complete with a white-elephant gift exchange at the staff Christmas Party.
Now I work for the Postal Service and my affection for Christmas has vanished.
Wait, that’s not true. It hasn’t vanished. It’s changed.
This year because I am holding down a route, working five or six day, and nearly seventy-hour, weeks, I’ve experienced something of what it’s like to be a mail carrier at Christmas. It, in a word, sucks. I’m sure there are plenty of jobs that are much worse, but at this time of year delivering mail has to be one of the unpleasantest things one can be stuck doing.
It’s the parcels that kill. I am literally delivering Christmas to many people on the routes I run. This very day, I delivered what must have been one family’s entire set of gifts from their relatives. It wasn’t the first time. People make their wishlists, their relatives and friends go online and buy the stuff, and I deliver the goods. I have become Santa Claus.
This season has afforded me a glimpse of the Christmas Machine in all its greedy glory. In most cases, the contents of the packages remain unknown to me but it doesn’t matter. The sheer volume is staggering. And I’m only one route in one post office in a single state of this nation. Every morning at our branch, the floor space shrinks to zero as the parcels overflow their hampers and get thrown everywhere. Every afternoon those parcels disappear, only to be replaced by an equal or greater number the next day. It has been like this every delivery day for two weeks.
I’ve been feeling something akin to what I experienced years ago when I worked in New York. We had a Christmas luncheon with some clients of our advertising agency. The account exec arranged for us to eat at America, a restaurant which I believe is now defunct. I ordered some sort of pasta thing. It arrived in a bowl that was twice the size of my head. The bowl was overflowing. It was an absolutely obscene amount of food and I was ashamed of myself for even being close to it.
That’s how I feel now as I transport the largesse of Christmas covetousness to and fro.
In your own family, on a micro scale, you may not notice it, but take a look at what Christmas has become even from a regional standpoint and it gets, for lack of a more euphemistic term, nauseating.
So, am I opting out of the Christmas machine? Nope. I’m as hooked on it as you probably are. More so, even. I want what I want. And the sooner the better. As far as that goes, nothing has changed. I’m still the greediest person I know.
What has changed is I now feel okay about calling it what it is, and not calling it what it isn’t.
What it isn’t is Christmas.
I’ve sporadically channeled ‘the true spirit of Christmas’ when in the midst of a grueling 4+ hours of running fragile parcels to the doors of homes that are way out of my price range, I can smile at the woman who opens the door, grimaces at me and snatches her package from my hand as if I were taking it and not giving it, and say, “have a good day.” Or when another woman* comes to wait at her mailbox just so she can yell at me for being ‘late’ with her mail, and I apologize and add that unfortunately it might not get any better until after Christmas.
Paul said, “I know how to be abased…” as well as how to have everything. Well, I don’t know how to do either of those, but I am learning, and the Christmas mail is my teacher.
The Christ Mass, as Stephen Lawhead would call it, is a time to be reminded how to be broken bread and poured out wine for others. Others who might not thank us for, or even appreciate, our broken poured-outness. You don’t have to be a mailman to learn this. It certainly helps, but it’s not a requirement.
Dickens gave the following words to Tiny Tim: ‘it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see.’
Very pleasant indeed, especially if you are the lame beggar or the blind man. To be able to see yourself in this way, that’s what Christmas is.
*I’m not being a he-man woman hater here, this is just the way it went down.