A framed canvas print of Norman Rockwell’s painting Home for Christmas has hung in my mother’s kitchen for as long as I can remember. Mr. Rockwell’s depiction of a snowy, yuletide Main Street in Stockbridge, Massachusetts is one of the first things I think of when I picture Christmas—probably due to my deep love for nostalgia and anything that resembles an old Christmas movie, and also because I grew up just down the way from Stockbridge in small-town Connecticut. Though the painting was created many years before I was born, the hustle and bustle of last-minute errands, the children playing in the snow, the decorations hanging in the shop windows, and of course, the station wagon on its way home with the evergreen tree tied to the roof remind me of my childhood Christmases in Connecticut.
Growing up, Christmas always meant big family gatherings with lots of noise and fun and laughter—I am one of twenty-one grandchildren on my mother’s side of the family, so small gatherings were not really an option. Christmas Eve was spent at my grandparents’ home. Grandpa always took his place in front of the tree and distributed gifts by shouting each of our names in his heavy New England accent. As we opened our presents and assembled toys, we snacked on cold cuts and Nana’s homemade cookies. Somehow, someone always noticed the clock with just enough time to clean up mountains of wrapping paper and find missing gloves, before piling into minivans and station wagons to make it to church on time. Despite my parents’ best efforts and scolding not to play with the candles, at least one of us usually managed to spill wax on our clothes before the service ended. When we got home from church, we usually went straight to bed, though sleep was always short.
Christmas day was spent at home. My siblings and I took great pleasure in waking each other up as early as possible to dig into our stockings while we waited not-so-patiently for our parents to come downstairs so we could all open presents. After a lazy morning enjoying our new gifts, we celebrated Jesus’ birth—the real reason for the season—with a big Christmas dinner. Christmas was always full of love, wonder, and joy.
It should come as no surprise to learn that Christmas is my favorite time of year. I love everything about it! Driving around to see the twinkling lights on neighbors’ houses. Attending candlelight Christmas Eve services with my family. Watching Christmas movies. Singing Christmas carols. Finding the perfect gift for a loved one. I even look forward to the extra craziness and busyness that always comes around this time of year.
As we all know, this year’s Christmas is going to look different than it usually does. For many of us, our holiday celebrations will be much smaller and simpler than they have been in years past. Much of the hustle and bustle has moved online instead of in stores, and scenes resembling Norman Rockwell’s idyllic, snowy Stockbridge are few and far between. The hope and joy that usually permeate the season seem to be in short supply. People are weary.
In some ways it is reminiscent of the first Christmas. The world was in turmoil then, too. Mary and Joseph’s lives were in upheaval. People were weary. But then came the thrill of hope. God sent his son into the world. An angel declared Jesus’ birth to lowly shepherds, saying, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11 NIV, emphasis added). Joy to the world!
There is no denying that 2020 has been a rough year for all of us. Let us choose joy, anyway! We get to end the year by celebrating the good news that the Messiah has come. Let us join with the heavenly host in declaring “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14 NIV). Let us recapture the hope and wonder of the season. Maybe we can find just a little bit of Norman Rockwell-style nostalgia, too. Most of us will be “home for Christmas,” after all.
Merry Christmas, friends!