But We Had Hoped

Maybe we’re sufficiently far enough out from Christmas that I can safely talk about the questions I have about it. Please don’t call me a Scrooge before you hear me out!

I love chocolate and chocolate-covered everything and candles and carols– all the music that Christmas evokes. But I’ve never seen how plates of cookies and candy link to Jesus’ birth.

Growing up, Christmas wasn’t a big deal in our family. We had a great Christmas dinner and friends or family to eat it with, and I value that simplicity. We never exchanged gifts, because our parents wanted us to think about how we could give to people who had less than we did. I’m grateful for this, even though every Christmas now I feel caught out and odd because I don’t have the gift-giving, card-giving rhythm everyone else does. Special gifts are lovely, and I love a party as much as any extrovert in a pandemic does, but I’ve never seen that we celebrate a friend’s birthday by giving everyone else presents.

Maybe it’s the rebel in me, but I look for ways to give unbirthday gifts outside of Christmas. I’m not highly organized at this, but sometimes I try. Last Thanksgiving break, I rounded up a dozen simple vases, (I was going to spray paint quart jars but you know how scarce they are this year. Dollar Tree to the rescue!) bought two rolls of ribbon, and went foraging for greens. I spent several hours arranging the greens at the kitchen table, then handed them out to friends over the next days. It was so much fun, so simple, and a way to give seasonal beauty that lasted at least a month.

Now I’m dreaming of making bunches of biscotti and passing them out in the next months. Wouldn’t homemade gifts be more special when they’re unexpected?

I like traditions and feasts and making candy together and reveling in gorgeous Christmas music, so I don’t plan on deleting Christmas from my life. But let’s not confuse happy, delicious traditions with a deeply significant event in history that’s so murky we know few details about how it was. Is there a way that we could keep the lines clearer between tradition and remembering the wonder of Incarnation?

We can call things tradition or fun but I don’t see how chocolates connect with the Incarnation. You can disagree, and that’s ok. Maybe I’ve not entered rightly or fully into celebrating spiritual realities.

To help start fresh traditions and clear connections to help us remember significant spiritual realities, I propose we start celebrating Easter as a bigger, brighter, richer event than we usually do. The worst possible thing happened on Good Friday, and then the most unimaginable, wonderful thing happened, and most of us say oh yeah, Easter’s coming soon–when is it, exactly–I don’t remember–shall we get some lilies for the table?

I dream of our whole calendar focused toward remembering this most unbelievable, shattering event. There’s much about that day in history and that context that we don’t know, but whenever I read the Emmaus story and the walkers tell Jesus “We had hoped he was to redeem Israel,” it breaks my heart every single time.

All of us know hope, broken hope, and the way a heart implodes. Easter is the only antidote in the world for that universal human experience, and it’s something to celebrate long and loud.

But how?

It’s been a whole year of Lent, not just forty days, and I have any amount of books and poetry and devotionals to help focus me in this Lenten season, and none of it is helping. I have no elastic in my soul to expand to Lenten Bible studies or reading eloquent poems. I’ve given up so much this year, I can’t think about deliberately cutting out another thing or adding something special while I wait for Easter.

So this is my dilemma. I want to celebrate Easter with beauty and joy and anticipation, and build traditions and remember how the worst possible thing became better than anyone’s dream. But this doesn’t seem to be the year to start. And I don’t know what to do about it.

I’m in the “but we had hoped” stage and most days I’m ok, but other days I’m edgy and whimpery and not a paragon of celebration and virtue. I’m like one of the two walking home to Emmaus, head down, disappointed, unable to make sense of what’s happening.

It’s dark but it’s a season and it won’t always be this way. Meanwhile, in the next post, I’ll list the tiny steps I’m taking toward light and beauty.

13 thoughts on “But We Had Hoped

  1. The greens are so very lovely, as are the words about prioritizing the celebration of Easter over Christmas. Thank you.

  2. Yes, Easter commemorates the pinnacle of Christ’s life on earth. On communion morning (more likely than Easter) I like to read at least part of the Easter story from a harmony of the Gospels, with the story blended from various Gospel accounts. It helps the narrative come alive for me. I do Easter letters. I have been looking for more Easter decor to remind myself of the season, but don’t really want the rabbits and eggs. I have one plaque “He is risen”, some artificial lilies and two magazines.

    Recently I pulled out those magazines. I want to leisurely look at them again. They are Emit (“Time” spelled backwards), written in news-reporter style about the events around Easter. Reading these has given me a fresh perspective on what happened. Probably most of the crowd who had welcomed Jesus in the triumphal entry was sound asleep while the jealous Jewish leaders tried to do away with Jesus before the crowd woke up. So it probably wasn’t people doing a 180-turn in several days. But however it happened, our Savior suffered excruciating pain and shed His blood to secure our redemption. And He rose triumphantly!

    I’m looking forward to your next post, Anita, and also hearing how others make Easter more meaningful.

    PS: Apparently the Emit version of the Easter story is not on-line. The present-day Emit magazine looks like something else.


  3. I like these ideas! My husband and I are also from families that skipped Christmas gifts and I so don’t miss it(I’m pretty bad at gift giving) but it’s a bit harder for our girls now to be “different”. Over Easter last yr we had fun doing a little resurrection garden. On a different note, I remember an earlier post where you shared some of your sister Hannah’s journey. I keep hoping her baby has safely arrived! You don’t need to answer if you don’t want to.

    • Yes! Resurrection gardens are so special!
      And thanks for asking about Hannah. Their baby boy is over 3 months old, and is perfectly perfect. We are grateful beyond words. I hope to meet him this summer but… I’m needing to hold those dreams loosely in this uncertain season.

  4. So… Christmas. I have to say this because I love Christmas. The reason for the chocolates and cookies and sharing and giving… If you think of how lavish God was in his giving, how utterly extravagant to give his Son, it does seem a little pointless. And yet. What other way do we humans have than to lavish what we can on others, and somehow our best efforts include feasting and giving special gifts. I do not mean the consumerism that accompanies the season, but the sense that something stupendously special is being celebrated. And yes, Easter is the same. I think I love it equally, but haven’t been conditioned to celebrate the same way. I’ll be waiting to hear from you. And thank you for that term “a year of lent”. I’ve been struggling with the mourning season as well, and I guess that is why.

    • I’m so glad you spoke up here, Dorcas! I like your words that something “stupendously special is being celebrated here.” What I’m feeling is that if that’s the motivation for Christmas celebrations, that’s wonderful and beautiful, but let’s also celebrate Easter with just as much enthusiasm and warmth. How can we start conditioning ourselves and our world to celebrate Easter better than we have been doing? That’s my quest.

  5. It is extra fun to give gifts when they’re unexpected. Blessings to you as you journey towards light and beauty. I also liked what you had to say about the “we had hoped” it is good to see that there are other people, even back then, who have/had disappointments… and we still have hope

  6. I rarely ever leave comments on social media, I’m just shy like that,but I want to give a heartfelt Amen to your post!There’s so much I can relate to here,but specifically how to make Easter more meaningful. I’m the odd friend that also doesn’t give gifts to my kids at Christmas while my friends’ children get no less than 5 or more,from parents, grandparents, cousins, uncles,and aunts. I have nothing against gifts, I just fail to see the relevance of how that has anything to do with God sending His Son.Not to mention I feel like it does our children a great disservice to expect such lavish presents. We prefer making a big ado on their birthdays instead. I wholeheartedly agree with giving Easter the same excitement and celebration as Christmas,but how that looks and fleshes out,I don’t know yet. Looking forward to hearing more!🙂

  7. You’re not a scrooge Anita, you’re looking at things honestly. I remember, as a young Christian, trying to “keep Christ in Christmas” and failing. My conclusion why? He never was in Christmas to begin with!
    Debatable to many out there, I know. But really, I love the freedom to sing Joy to the World all year long without feeling a bit odd about it! Jesus and all His story is my joy at all times.

  8. I’ll be eager to hear your ideas.
    I’ve been wishing we put more emphasis on Easter but most ideas seem to go to the “celebrate spring” path which isn’t any better than cookies at Christmas. We usually work on memorizing a special Scripture before Easter and the music is a highlight though I don’t mind listening to resurrection music any time of year.

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