Like you, I'm spending some serious time at Target these days. It is one of my favorite stores; and we never seem to get through a trip without bumping into friends. But I don't expect to run into Christmas there.
Some say a "war" is waging because cheerful cashiers wish me "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." It's true; I'll concede that much has changed in our desire for political correctness. Employers now host the annual "Holiday Gathering" and schools enjoy "Winter Break." But those celebrations never had much to do with Christmas, and I just can't get riled up about what so many are calling its demise (I save that sort of energy for playing referee at the dinner table).
Why? Because I don't expect to find Christmas - a proclamation of our Lord's birth - at glitzy parties or a shopping mall or even a parade. Don't get me wrong; I love gathering for food and gifts and music and fellowship. I adore a glorious tree, inspirational cards, hot cocoa and carols, smartly wrapped gifts and cozying up to watch Elf. It would be heresy in my family to refrain from all the fun, and we're passionate about our traditions. Still ... those are just the trappings of Christmas.
To me, Christmas is something I try hard (and very often fail) to carry in my heart, regardless of the season. Christmas is more of an attitude, a world-view ... a way of life. Christmas came this year when my son, without suggestion, prayed for the victims in a passing ambulance. Christmas came when I stood witness to radical forgiveness, a gift I was humbled to both receive and hand out this year. Christmas came when we worked alongside dozens of volunteers, packing 500,000 meals to send to God's precious children in need. Christmas came when my husband and I watched our wee littlest sing Happy Birthday to Jesus at our beloved church, our eyes brimming and hearts overflowing.
The profound, lasting gift we received in the birth of this tiny boy who changed the world has survived far worse than the semantics of "holiday." Time and culture and war and persecution have not taken down the King of Kings. This humble man who proclaimed He came "not to be served, but to serve," who walked among the broken, who healed the sick, who washed the feet of his followers, who showed us God's mercy, divinity, power and love ... He is Christmas. And His message is still thriving, still changing lives, still calming the storms and still resonating after 2,000 years.
Perhaps the best way we can celebrate Christmas is to try and live our lives in constant reverence to His message ... to love our God, and to love our neighbors and offer grace at every opportunity. Not just in December, but all year long. Those are gifts you can't buy at Target. But I'll see you there anyway!
Diane Meehl is a freelance writer, volunteer and mother of three. Reach her and share your favorite Christmas traditions at firstname.lastname@example.org.