My favorite Christmas movie is A Charlie Brown Christmas. It’s not overly long or even overly complicated, and yet it has held up for decades, still touching today’s generation as much as it did the ones before.
As I watched it this year, it occurred to me that it might be even more meaningful to me as an adult.
Each year, no matter how old we are, we look forward to the coming of Christmas. We’ve been counting down the days since last Christmas even, or at least since we took the decorations down and packed them all away.
But whether we like it or not, Christmas can come with some problems.
Problems that never crossed our mind as a child can interrupt even the most exciting of moments.
Maybe someone’s no longer with us who ought to be, and the hole just feels bigger at Christmas.
Maybe the people who are with us aren’t who they ought to be, and coming together for a holiday is more like preparing for war.
Maybe you’ve lost a job or stuck in a job that brings you as much stress as being without.
Despite what we want to believe, the hardships that follow us throughout the year don’t magically vanish around Christmas.
Sometimes, if anything, they seem larger.
Charlie Brown gets it. He confesses to Lucy, “My trouble is Christmas. I just don’t understand it. Instead of feeling happy, I feel sort of let down.”
Of course, Lucy suggests all he needs is involvement. But directing the local Christmas play or even going out to select a Christmas tree doesn’t solve his problem. If anything, it makes things worse.
Maybe you feel let down, too. Maybe the traditions you’ve looked forward to all year just aren’t ringing the same for whatever reason. So you pull back and withdraw, or you frantically charge forward, scheduling more and more on the calendar to fill the gap between you and Christmas.
Because even the sweetest of traditions was never meant to solve our problems. They were never meant to take our hardship away.
Christmas plays, Christmas trees, and whatever else comes with this season are only little bits of joy. Signposts in the snow that remind us what truly will ease our burdens.
As Linus reminded Charlie Brown, Christmas isn’t about any of those things. Christmas is about what we read in Luke chapter two. “That’s what Christmas is really about.”
It’s not a something, it’s a Someone. A Someone who will never let us down. A Someone who never leaves us, not at Christmas, not at any other time of the year. And all the things we look forward to are little slivers of the joy He has promised for us now and forever.
A Christmas play can’t bring back someone we love, but Jesus can sit with us in the hurt. A Christmas tree can’t end a cycle of abuse or reconcile estranged family members, but Jesus can hold us together. Traditions can’t ease stress, but Jesus can breathe peace into us.
Christmas doesn’t take away our hurt, our sadness, or our worries. But Christmas--real Christmas—doesn’t let us down either.
So this year, as I watched Christmas movies, made sugar cookies and gingerbread houses, and decorated the tree, I searched for Jesus’ joy in it, instead of fulfillment.
I didn’t have far to search. You don’t either.
As we enjoy the last few evenings of sitting in the light of the Christmas tree, maybe it’s a good time to stop and think of how we might find Christmas in this new year.
That thought might even bring a bit of the excitement back, no matter what season it is.
I somehow made it through my childhood without seeing The Polar Express. It’s one of my new favorites (although A Charlie Brown Christmas is still tops).
The Polar Express is an odd little movie—from the groundbreaking visuals to the whimsical storyline to the fact that Tom Hanks somehow manages to do half the voices. (I’m still trying to figure that one out.)
It’s a little bit of a mystical tale for children. Or maybe it’s children who understand it perfectly and me who doesn’t understand.
The journey begins with a boy just on the verge of not believing in Santa anymore. We don’t know his name or where exactly he lives. He could be anyone.
That night, a train shows up in his yard, tracks and all. “All aboard!”
He follows the call outside into the snow, where he meets the conductor of the mysterious train. But no matter what that conductor says, nothing can convince the boy to climb on. So finally, the conductor shrugs, adds “Suit yourself”, and leaves him to it.
But as the train pulls away, something clicks into place. The boy runs through the snow, grabs hold of the bar on the side of the train, and climbs on.
That’s only the start of the adventure.
The boy at last returns home—after traveling through forests, up mountains, and over poles, and to the North Pole—with the word “Believe” punched into his train ticket.
“Just remember,” the conductor says as the train vanishes into the snow, “the funny thing about trains—it doesn’t matter where they’re going. What matters is deciding to get on.”
And then he and the Polar Express are gone, with one final call of “Merry Christmas.”
We can take this scene one of two ways. We can do the decidedly adult route and get all up in arms about how yes, it is very important to know where your “train” is going.
And it is. Not knocking that. It’s very important to know where you’re going in life and after.
But if we were to take that route, we’d have to ignore the fact that these kids knew exactly where they were going. They were going to the North Pole. And they knew that because the conductor told them so.
None of these kids had ever seen the North Pole before. They didn’t know what it was like. They didn’t know if it was all they dreamed of. They didn’t know how to get there.
But none of that mattered.
They decided to get on.
And that mattered more than knowing every last detail of where they were going.
It Doesn’t Matter Where You’re Going . . .
We’re on a train of our own, too—a little thing called life. Sometimes that train brings us hot chocolate or trips to the North Pole, sometimes it brings us steep hills and cracking ice.
We know where we’re going, don’t we? It’s the whole reason we celebrate Christmas. God sent the Person dearest to Him to feel everything we feel. More than that, to suffer beyond imagination and rise again. So we could know where we were going. And so we could know it’s a wonderful place.
Even though we know where we’re going, we’ve never seen it before. We get little tastes of it here (and hint, you get more tastes of it the closer you stay to your Conductor), but at the same time, we know the joy coming is something entirely different than anything we’ve ever expected.
What if it’s not real? What if it’s not all we hoped for? What if we’re ruining everything here?
Sometimes we forget Jesus also came to help us climb aboard the train.
What Matters is Deciding to Get On.
Sometimes we forget that the journey matters just as much as the destination.
Even though I don’t know where it’s going. Even though I don’t have all the details. Even though the tracks are treacherous. Even though it hurts.
And I can get on.
Sometimes Christmas hurts. Hard years make it hard to believe, hard to find wonder in this season we all love so much.
Get on anyways. Hang on for dear life if you have to. Because sometimes the scary roads lead to the most joyful moments.
It’s okay if it takes some time for you to get used to it all--to let go of the bar, come inside the train, even to sit with others in the main compartment. But little by little, you’ll find the more you leave it to the Conductor Who is never late to get you where you need to be, the more those snowflakes of joy blow into your life. And snowflakes add up to a snowfall as we give the hope and joy that we’ve received to others as well.
Like mysterious bells that only ring for those who believe. Does the bell still ring for you? Even if it doesn’t now, it can again.
Heaven is here. Christmas is here. God is here.
So it doesn’t matter where you’re going.
What matters is deciding to get on.
*What’s your favorite Christmas movie? What do you think of The Polar Express? What does your Christmas look like this year? Share your adventures in the comments below!*
*Why are there so many cute and funny puppy Christmas memes? I forced myself to limit it to one.*
I recently watched the new Grinch (by Illumination Pictures) with my family. While I haven't seen either of the other two, this version of the familiar story quickly became a keeper for our Christmas movie collection.
Likely everyone here knows the general basis of the story. A furry green monster called the Grinch hates Christmas because of the years he's spent the holiday by himself. He comes up with an elaborate scheme to quote, "steal Christmas," unquote. And it works.
Or does it? Because even as he stalks away with all their presents, all their trees, all their lights, the Whos are still singing.
And when the Grinch closes his eyes and listens (thanks to some advice from a little girl who believed he was Santa Claus), he realizes what he's been missing.
He returns the gifts, much to the Whos' astonishment, and retreats to his cave. But Cindy Lou still shows up to invite him to her family's Christmas dinner--despite all that he did.
It's there, over the Christmas dinner, in the final minute of the movie, that the Grinch finishes a rhyme equally as applicable to writers as to the Whos. He raises his glass and leads the Whos in a toast.
"To kindness and love, the things we need most."
And he's right. We could argue that it's an incomplete list--after all, where's Jesus. But, God is love, after all.
Christmas is hectic. Christmas in 2020 is even more hectic. And if you're like me, the urge to write doesn't go away because it's Christmas. We're juggling family, decorations, gift shopping, school events, fundraisers, and finishing our novels like items in Max's precariously packed little wagon.
Those are all good things. Fantastic things. It's part of what makes this season special. But I've learned to relax between those spectacular traditions and to just enjoy those moments.
But whatever we're doing, kindness and love are what we need most.
What good is it if I've finished my novel, but not taken time for my family this season?
If I didn't have time to brighten someone's day at work?
If my book is full of twists and turns, but its heart is two sizes too small? If it has nothing to share with the rest of the world?
This is why we're here, doing this, writing. We're the drop of kindness that turns a mean one into a Mr. Grinch. We're the song of love that makes others close their eyes and listen. Or rather, God's kindness and love through us is.
Even as the Grinch leaves Whoville with his sleigh piled high with the Whos' Christmas, Cindy's mother, Donna comforts her daughter who fears the missing Christmas is her fault. "He didn't steal Christmas," she says. "He just stole stuff. Christmas is in here." She lays a hand over her heart.
The same is true of us. We know what Christmas is really about--Love that came into a world of Grinchs. Worse than Grinchs, actually. Who would die for them. Who would rise for them. For us.
Kindness and love.
Christmas is inside us. And nothing can steal it from us. Not 2020. Not a Grinch with elaborate inventions.
So this Christmas, let's listen with our hearts and refuse to keep silent.
To kindness and love, the things we need most!
*Which version of The Grinch is your favorite? Original, live action, or remake? How are you sharing kindness and love this Christmas season? Share your adventures in the comments below!
Alright, so it has nothing to do with writing, but if you can't post puppy graphics around Christmas, when can you post them?
Alright, so I have a writing one, too.
Hi, I'm Rachel! I'm the author of the posts here at ProseWorthy. Thanks for stopping by!