What Does Christmas Really Mean?


It was eight years ago. I wrote it down. I wrote it down because writing is one of the ways I process information and reflect on life. Yet, even without the script, I suspect the memory will be forever etched in the resources of my mind. Some things you simply don’t forget.

On December 6, 2007, I flew from Austin to Tulsa to visit with my mother. It was Mother’s 82nd birthday. I wanted to be there. I wanted to share time with her.

Dad had died earlier that year. As it turned out, Mother was placed in a nursing home for Alzheimer’s patients about a month before Dad’s death. The facility was near my brother’s home in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. My brother’s daughter is a registered nurse. Since my niece promised to check on mother daily, dad gave permission for Mother’s care until he could get well and reassume the responsibility himself.

Of course, because of Mother’s illness, I anticipated that she would not be fully aware of the day or it’s significance. In all likelihood, December 6 would probably be like any other day to her. It was important to me to be with her even if she didn’t have the cognitive ability to know I was there. At least, that was the theory, but sometimes theory and practice can be worlds apart.

As I feared, when Mother saw me (or perhaps more appropriately, when I saw her) there was not even a glimmer of recognition in her eyes. Despite the lack of recognition, I did everything imaginable in an attempt to communicate and connect. I even sang Happy Birthday to her. I felt like a nut singing to my mother. She was in a large open assembly room full of strangers. I quickly made the assumption that if the other residents were in the same shape as Mother, they wouldn’t remember it or me either. Consequently, I actually opted to sing the song to her twice. Despite my best efforts to be animated, funny and engaging, there was virtually no response.

Although I thought I was emotionally prepared for the encounter…the experience or painful realization that I was no longer of significance in her world was very upsetting. Consequently I didn’t sleep very soundly that night. Actually I’m not really sure that I slept at all. I tossed and turned and spent most of the night in thoughtful contemplation.

As you might imagine, I thought about that experience over the next several days. It definitely colored my perception of Christmas that year. “Okay, God, what am I supposed to learn from this?” is one of the questions I asked. In so doing, there was a life-lesson in the experience for me. It took little effort for the message to be crystal clear.

The term Christmas literally means “the worship of Christ.” And yet for many, the primary focus at Christmas is anything other than a sense or act of worship.

The visit with my mother on her birthday was upsetting to me because from my perspective, I was no longer a part of her world. But what if the scenario had been reversed?

  • What if my Mother had been fully present on her birthday?
  • What if she had been the one who was mentally alert and emotionally available?
  • If Mother had recognized me, she would have intuitively been filled with joy. Yet, if I didn’t have the cognitive ability to recognize her or to communicate with her or to express love, how would she have felt?
  • What if every effort she made to connect with me was met with a blank stare and lack of recognition?

If our roles were reversed, Mother’s response would have mirrored the one I experienced. She, too, would have been greatly saddened and disturbed by the experience.

In the Christian world, at least in theory, we celebrate Christmas as the birthday of Christ. Yet, how often do we gravitate from one Christmas party to the next without even stopping to think about the “One” whose birthday we are allegedly celebrating?

Andrea, my daughter’s birthday is eight days after Christmas. She was born on January 2. Andrea’s birthday always got overshadowed by activities associated with Christmas or the New Year. Consequently, by the time Andrea was old enough to be assertive (I think she may have been five or six), she ensured that as a family we’d celebrate her half-year birthday on June 2. That way, she got two presents: One on January 2 and one on June 2. She was a smart kid- still is!

Isn’t the Gift of Christmas an “exchanged life?” I like the way Max Lucado expresses it:

  • “He can no more leave a life unchanged than a mother can leave a tear untouched.
  • His plan for you is nothing short of a new heart.
  • If you were a car, God would want to control your engine.
  • If you were a computer, God would claim the software and the hard drive.
  • If you were an airplane, he’d take his seat in the cockpit.
  • But you are a person, so God wants to change your heart.

God loves you just the way you are, but he refuses to leave you there. He wants you to have a heart like his. He wants you to be just like Jesus”.

It was said of Christ’s generation: “Christ was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him!” (John 1:10). Two thousand years plus later, has anything really changed? We seldom pause to recognize him at Christmas.

All My Best!




3 thoughts on “What Does Christmas Really Mean?”

  1. Once more you have written a classic. Love it.
    Would like to add that Andrea & Jillian(my grandaughter) have something in common, other than being related. Jillian’s birthday is 31 Dec, so she has a half birthday in mid summer.

    Liked by 1 person

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