I live near an animal sanctuary that converts one of its barns to a live nativity scene every holiday season. Camels, sheep, cows, and chickens surround a swaddled newborn baby in a manger, while volunteer wise men, shepherds, and Jesus' parents look on lovingly. Outside, a bonfire, hot chocolate, and Christmas carols help make this yearly tradition a family favorite. Each year I walk into the barn, smell the pungent, earthy aroma, pet the livestock milling around, pay my loving respects to the baby, and think, "We are all in trouble."
How did we go from a simple scene like this to opening the mall doors at 4 A.M.? When did it become mandatory to attend a cookie exchange, volunteer in our child's classroom, and entertain our in-laws in Martha Stewart style—all in the same week? Why are we throwing dinner at the kids in the car while we cart them from one Christmas performance to the next? The valley between how Jesus came into our world and how our world now treats his birthday is an ever-growing chasm. The good news is, I know several families who have consciously decided to withdraw from the holiday shopping madness, extravagant spending, and "go, go, go" over-scheduling that notoriously shows up between November and December. I've followed their lead and enjoyed a more relaxed holiday pace. Unfortunately, many of these people, myself included, make up for their brief worldly sabbatical during the remaining 10 months. That's why, this year, I vow to celebrate Christmas all year long.1