Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Main Entry: na·tiv·i·ty
Pronunciation: nschwa-primarystresstiv-schwat-emacron, namacr-
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural -ties
1 capitalized : the birth of Jesus
2 : the time, place, or manner of being born : BIRTH

I love Nativity sets. Growing up, it was sort of "my thing" to be the one to set up the Nativity. I'll admit as a four or five-year-old that it was most likely the play-house-figurine-factor that lured me into participating. But, as I got older, I grew to enjoy the tradition and appreciate the true meaning of what the Nativity represented.

I started collecting Nativities sometime in high school. My parents bought me the Fontanini set a piece at a time, each Christmas receiving a new figurine to expand the story being told. (If you love Nativities, check out the Italian Fontanini set, it is just lovely.) And since, I have added a variety to the collection from a little puzzle Nativity my Grandpa made, to one carved out of olive wood actually from Bethlehem. I treasure each one and am very specific to love each version of the sculptured scenes for a real reason - that is, I won't be adding any Precious Moments or Peanuts Characters editions to the collections - not that there is anything really wrong about that, but I just want my heart to stay closely tied to my Nativity's true representation and not let them get lost among the silver bells and tinsel and other decor. After all, Nativities are not really decoration in my opinion. As beautiful as they are, they really are precious symbols of a moment captured in time - a time we all are so hyper-aware-of that we are willing to take a day off of work, buy each other gifts, go to church, and bake uncontrollably, all in the name of comfort and joy - and oh yeah, a moment that at one point just a couple thousand years ago welcomed the miracle of all miracles onto our very own planet.

This is my third Christmas as a mother, and each year since having my own bundle of joy, I can't help but think about Mary. Right about now, she would have been great with child. Her ankles swollen, her back aching, and her belly full of a Holy bouncing baby boy, literally. I know what it is like to be ridiculously huge with child - just beyond pregnant to to the point of pure aggravation with counting the minutes until that baby would finally make an appearance. But, I can't even begin to fathom riding a donkey, not knowing where I would deliver, and carrying the Messiah of the Universe in my womb. Umm, whoa. And Mary didn't have the "What To Expect When You're Expecting" app on her iPhone to help pass the time as they made the trek to Bethlehem.

And think of Joseph!? Walking that whole way? Probably worried about when and where they would end up - if they would even get settled in time before the baby arrived. And, honestly, did he wonder what Jesus would come out looking like? I mean, it's not his kid, and having been told it was the Holy Child from an Angel, did he worry this baby would come out glowing in holiness? Would he recognize him as his own child, or as his Savior....or both? again is it that you cut the umbilical cord? Oh yeah, Joseph had to know that too.

You've most likely heard the gospel message of the Nativity time and time again: No room in the inn...only a stable available...Jesus born and laid in a manger...the shepherds...the wise men...etc. But, when is the last time you truly pictured it happening? You probably know somebody who is expecting a baby right now - seeing their status updates of uncomfortability, buying new things for the nursery, reading the parenting books. Maybe you are even pregnant yourself, counting each kick with anticipation of the next, rubbing your belly and praying for no stretchmarks, making your list for the hospital (and checking it twice). But seriously, think about Mary and Joseph NOW. Some of us think having a baby in a hospital is crazy, while others think it is nuts to go to a "birthing center" or just looney to try a "home birth". Well, I don't see anybody lining up for the "stable birth experience" so I'm guessing it wasn't too pleasant...yet, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ himself was born among farm animals, wrapped in scraps, and cried his first cries in a feed trough.

If you can imagine the sensations in that little shelter, it makes me nearly ill to truly think about how overwhelming it all must have been. Joseph, nervous, second-guessing every God-given instinct as he catches the baby's head. Mary, sweaty and frightened, confident with the adrenaline only the relief of birth can offer a woman, taking the baby to her breast for the first time as if it was second-nature. And Christ, the King of Kings, opening His eyes to the world He created for the first time as a human, crying with the voice He designed, anxiously feeding as a helpless newborn in the only way He knew how...perfectly. It must have been dark and damp. It must have been surrounded with low groans and loud breaths from the animals. And, if you've ever smelled the scent of either birth or farm animals...well, let's just say there is a reason Yankee Candle hasn't jumped on the Christmas scent of "Nativity Stable" for the holidays. The most unlikely of settings for the most magnificent of guests.

So, maybe next time when you look at the Nativity figurine-trifecta sitting on a side table, or a retail display, or a church organ, maybe you won't just see pretty little sculptures set up for decoration...but maybe you will see them with your heart, and remember how that ceramic baby Jesus was real and human...even stinky and loud at times...and came to save us all.
O Holy Night.

Guilty [Christmas] Pleasures

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Tis the season for many a guilty pleasure...that extra gingerbread cookie, the vente Peppermint Mocha latte, staying up late wrapping (or buying) gifts... But, one guilty pleasure I thoroughly take joy in is that of the Christmas movie. Okay, yes, we all love a good Christmas movie...and I am a huge fan of Elf, White Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Story...the list goes on and on. But, those are legitimate Christmas movies - not worthy of a "guilty", no, the Christmas movies I'm referring to are the ones nobody can even remember the names of. But, you've seen one, you've seen them all.
That's right - I'm talking about those oooey gooey Christmas romance made-for-tv-only movies that are playing non-stop on Lifetime, Oxygen, TBS, or whatever other channels are looking to fill in regularly programmed time with some holiday bliss. Here it is, I totally admit it, I'm a sucker for these flicks. I know, I know, they leave a lot to be desired - but, when you are high on Christmas sugar cookies and have re-wrapped the hexagon shaped present for the zillionth time your toddler discovered it - all you want is a little brainless Christmas cheer...and thank you very much, ABC Family, you can have all the chipper-seasonal-joy-nonsense you like, starring your favorite has-been Actor and his co-star what's-her-name-that-was-in-that-one-show-way-back-when.
But, as I've watched these ridiculous movies from year to year, I started seeing the wonderfully predictive scripts in a whole new way...a formula for thought-free-holiday-happy-endings, if you will. To which I give you:
the TOP 20 moments you need in every made-for-TV-Christmas movie:
20. The Office Christmas Party Scene: somebody, somewhere works in some big city as some big shot or with some big shot who is most likely obsessed with leaving their roots of a small town of some sort and needs a change of heart, somebody drinks too much or someone has a terrible Christmas sweater on while the protagonist is most likely depicted in a nice trench coat and matching hat and gloves.
19. A makeover: Somebody at some point needs to change their look - maybe a friend or the main star, but certainly a makeover or "shopping trip/in-and-out-of-dressing room" scene is showing how the character is at least up for a change of some kind.
18. A set-up: Somebody is set-up on a blind date, or "or you should meet my godson Michael" or "this is my sister Sally, you two both have Christmas Eve birthdays" of some sort. This doesn't always go well - it is either a hysterically rotten match, or an unlikely pair that blossoms into love after the next commercial break.
17. The Christmas Montage: shopping, laughing, egg-nogging, and other merriment of sorts - or maybe "finally home" and rediscovering all the lovely small town Christmas traditions, at some point there is a fabulous saxophone solo or ringing of the bells during a very festive montage before they can resume the "plot" (for lack of a better term).
16. A spousal death: Somebody's wife/mother or husband/father has passed away. It is sad. It affected the character deeply and this is mostly likely their first Christmas without this person by their side. But, hey, perhaps love is in the air and they will find someone new and charming within the next 47 minutes?
15. The cooking/baking scene: What's Christmas without flour-filled-fun in the kitchen? Somebody is burning a turkey or cutting out Christmas cookies or teaching the next generation how to build immaculate gingerbread houses. Just another delicious part of the story. Ahh, togetherness.
14. The gathering at a Family's house scene: Speaking of togetherness...somebody is hosting a party and you must come and meet my entire family even though we've only known each other a couple days! Don't mind my Aunt Margaret in the Christmas sweater with jingle bells sewn on, and just ignore the little children running through the room with hula hoops and ornaments - I don't remember who they are anyway and they are insignificant to the storyline - but don't they make this scene loud and charming?
13. The Snow Scene: Regardless of the location, city, small town, country, Hawaii or Denver...there's bound to be snow. Maybe it's falling (ever so gently as the camera backs away and someone cues the deer running in the distance) or maybe it's a snowball fight/flirtation that uncomfortably ends with making-out snow-angel style. Awkward. Brr.
12. Buying something unreasonable scene: You have to shop for Christmas presents, and at some point, someone who is most likely undeserving will be bought a gift that is way too expensive. Cashmere, a car, a horse, a house...someone is sacrificing either money or a kidney to purchase something entirely unreasonable that will, no doubt, lead to saving the day by the end of the movie.
11. Given a coat to keep warm: "Brr! I can't believe it is snowing in North Dakota and all I have on is this silly ole sequin gown? Oh me and my silly big city ways!" Never fear - bachelor number one is here to save the day with his hearty oversized midwestern parka guaranteed to keep you warm. And if that doesn't work - his burley man chest is most likely open for business.
10. Somebody gets engaged: Perhaps this ring was the unaffordable (aforementioned) superfluous gift, or maybe it is a family heirloom left from the recently passed mother/grandmother/godmother. But, regardless of the shock on her tear-stained face, no one is surprised at the proposal of that one cute couple we are sure to be happy for by now.
9. The Kiss under the Mistletoe scene: Whoops, who put that there? Whether it is their first kiss (aww) or their millionth (still in love after 50 years of marriage, how romantic) that sexy little plant is hung in some doorway on a perfectly magical night just waiting to tempt the fate of one lucky couple.
8. The Christmas Lights revealed scene: Tada!!! WOW! So that's what you were doing with all those lights and generators and why you were gone for three days in the middle of everything - aha! Someone plugs in a theatrical masterpiece of lights to totally blow the socks off (make that, eye sockets off) someone who needed a bit of a Christmas pick-me-up. How jolting...I mean, lovely.
7. The Embarrassed by Parents/Relatives scene: Well, if nothing were truer at Christmas, it's that oh-my-gosh, parents are at their all time worst, right? Like, how could dad invite that cute firefighter over for breakfast when I am still in my robe? Or, how did my mother tell that park ranger I was an avid equestrian when I haven't ridden a horse since I was ten? Or, why did my parents show up unannounced and I forgot to tell them I'm dating someone with a daughter?
6. Opening an awkward gift: If unreasonable parents aren't enough - at some point someone will open a gift (at the office party? at the family gathering?) that will be clearly inappropriate. "Who gives someone with diabetes strawberry jam for Christmas?" "Why did you give me mittens when you know I just lost my thumb in that tractor accident?"
5. The pet in the holiday costume shot: Can you say comic relief? Just when the going gets tough, the tough dress their yorkies up like elves. Need an extra giggle? Let's put Buster in those reindeer antlers as we fade to commercial. Deal.
4. The Caroling scene: Just because this isn't a musical is no excuse not to burst into song! Everyone knows the words to Joy to the World/Hark the Herald/Silent Night...and what's more, it's public domain, so that PA over there doesn't even have to go figure out how to buy the rights to the music - and oh yeah, my crazy Aunt Margaret is a choir director at an orphanage and Uncle Charles is deaf but plays the piano...all of a sudden...let's do this!
3. The Church scene: Never mind that the birth of Christ hasn't been mentioned, somehow we are in a church and someone is lonely/needs forgiveness/seeks redemption...and I have a pretty good feeling they sat in the right pew at the right time to find it...just in time.
2. The "It's a Christmas Miracle" scene: At some point, usually near the end (but, not necessarily) something of inexplicable grandeur occurs that must be a Christmas miracle! Where did all that money come from? Why, it hasn't snowed here in 40 years! He can walk again! They found my dog Lucky 4 states away! This baby was born in an avalanche! Remarkable.
1. Christmas morning: Finally! All is well and the day is finally here. December 25th has arrived, and brought with it bushels of Christmas cheer, happiness, joy, jubilation, and sheer merriment to be had by all! There is cocoa for everyone, presents abounding, snow falling, carolers singing, reindeer prancing, elves dancing, and Tiny Tim is blessing everyone left and right. Pass the roast beast and chug the egg nog! Christmas Day has come! And so has the end.

Cue the Hallelujah Chorus and change the channel...before I get sucked into the next...what's that? Some girl in the big city is leaving her job to go home to her dying father where her high school sweetheart still runs the family hardware store? Hmm...somebody stop me.


Monday, December 12, 2011

It's beginning to look a lot like chaos around the Pardy home. Finally, the tree is trimmed, the wreath is up, and the stockings are hung by the chimney with care/mischief. And each and every day is a bit of a challenge to keep the decorations up and looking lovely...and not yanked down, trampled, or eaten by a toddler...until the blessed 25th day of December arrives.
Once the decor was up, it was all I could do to keep from buying out all of Target and start wrapping presents. However, gift wrapping is such a one-step-forward-six-leaps-backwards feat when you have a very eager 2-year-old who just saw you put that Disney Princess Doll in the trunk about an hour ago. So, yeah, I'm waiting to wrap gifts right up until the last minute. Nevermind the piles of knotted up Target and ToysRUs bags at the foot of my bed, rumpled together with a giant blanket thrown on top to hide them...I realize this top-secret-super-secure hiding method may not last long!
But, this is going to be a crazy fun Christmas year. First of all - we have TWO little ones. All the more holly and jolly! And this year Matilda can say "HoHoHo" AND "Santa!" which is nearly as cute as blowing kisses each time it comes out of her mouth. She is like a little Christmas sponge, absorbing all knowledge of what is happening. I'm hopeful she understands a little bit about what the season is really about, though I'm pretty sure if she could speak more clearly she would give you some version of the Christmas story that involved baby Jesus coming down the chimney and giving her a lot of gifts including 8 reindeer in a manger and a trip to the North Pole on a donkey. So....we might be a little off on specifics...but as long as we keep up that both Jesus and Santa are taking notes on her levels of naughtiness, I think we're doing okay for now. (I kid.)
Nevertheless, Matilda is excited about Christmas. The other day, the plumber had to come over and unclog a drain (this ties in, just hang with me) and lo and behold he actually had to snake the drain from the roof (I know, weird, but you can see where I'm headed here). I didn't actually think Matilda would understand what I was saying so when we heard footsteps above us, I gasp and exclaim "Matilda! Is that Santa on the roof???" In an instant she jumps up, arms raised in the air and bolts for the front door screaming "SAAAANTAAAA!" in total Elf-style-exclamation! Hahaha, whoops. I had to then explain that my calendar was off and we'd have to wait a couple more weeks for Santa. Still, she was excited to see the plumber on top of the roof, so it wasn't a total loss.
Yes, Matilda, you will be told there is a Santa Claus. I grew up with Santa, so did my husband, and neither of us needed therapy because our parents lied to us (we needed therapy for a lot of other reasons, sure, but not because of Santa). Of course, this is a decision that each parent has to make for their kids. Certainly I've been questioned by others about it or had eyes rolled at me when I take Matilda to sit on some stranger's lap at the mall. I get it. It's not the truth and it undermines a greater, more important, focus of the season. Perhaps. But, in our home, Santa is also a kind, generous man who loves Jesus too. Each Christmas he comes, eats the cookies and milk we leave for him, and in return he leaves toys and a sweet letter always including a reminder as to why we really celebrate Christmas - the birth of Jesus. Maybe this seems petty, but it is simple and sweet and fun. And...let's remember I have a 2 year old who is just full of joy and not asking any questions yet...that time will come, and certainly the truth will be revealed soon enough. But, for now, I have a kid who is full of pure wonder and excitement. She gazes at the tree with delight. She holds her palms up to catch fake snowflakes when they fall (this is what Californians have to do, people). She steals ornaments and tries to hang them on her baby sister. It's fun, it's festive, and I love it. I want to keep Christmas merry and bright for her year after year, and part of that fun for us as her parents is to tell her about a jolly man in a sled who comes around once a year to make you believe in a little bit of Christmas magic and motivate you to spread a little holiday cheer. Yes, yes, this is always trumped by the fact that in truth the absolute miracle of the season came in the form of a tiny baby, born the Messiah...not in 8 tiny reindeer, I know. I want to emphasize that there is no comparison when it comes to the magnitude of these stories, one being fantasy and the other, life-altering reality (Praise God!)
[Oh, and a quick side-note that there is a true story behind Santa/St. Nick and all that as well...but, let's just stick to referring to the iconic Man in the Red Hat for this blog's sake, okay? That's really what I'm talking about here.]
Anyway, all this to I have to give up Santa just because I love Jesus? I don't think so and I sure hope not. Instead, let's accept that Santa is incorporated into the holiday season - part of the gift-giving-egg-nogging-carol-singing-stocking-hanging-light-glowing-fruitcake-eating FUN that Christmas is all about. This joyful and generous spirit that surrounds us can, I think, help motivate the cheer we share in the Jesus-worshipping-canned-goods-donating-Salvation-Army-bell-ringing-Nativity-setting-candle-lighting-Bible-reading Christmas that we all genuinely care about...or should. These aren't two different holidays, folks, they are the same one. Embrace it! Or don't. But don't bah-humbug on my Santa-loving, okay? Anything that points us towards kindness and generosity ultimately points us towards Jesus in my book (well, in His book if we're really going there and excuse the idiom).
I'm not looking to include a Santa figurine in my Nativity. I'm just open to utilizing all holiday cheer and steering it in the direction of the Savior. Now, let's go watch "It's a Wonderful Life" and drink another peppermint mocha before the guilt sets in. I've got to address my Christmas cards before they get lost in another pile of Target bags.
Chaos and Cheer. Pa-rum-pa-pum-pum.
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