That year I learned the holidays are about a lot more than what you see out your window. It's what's on the other side of the window pane that really counts. And in 1998, my family and the holiday traditions that we shared in our home were over 1,000 miles away.
Now over a decade of white Christmases later, I find myself looking out the window and blaming the lack of snow for my deficiency in holiday spirit. How can it possibly feel like Christmas with green grass underfoot and pebbles in the driveway?
But that's where I've got something wrong. If I could find the spirit of Christmas in a world of blown-up snowmen on bare lawns and plastic Santas fading in the warm southern sun, why not now? Does my Christmas spirit hinge on something as fickle as the weather?
I'm beginning to think that it's the busyness of this time of year that is the great thief of holiday joy. Ironically, it's the very activities that we do in the search for the spirit of Christmas that keeps us from finding it.
As I step on to the treadmill of holiday festivities this year, I'm asking myself, "Just what is it that fills my holiday-spirit tank?"
December 1st comes, and it feels like someone hits the "Go" button. We start going through the motions just hoping that the motions, themselves, will generate the feeling. But I think it has to be more intentional than that.
It seems to me that we need to make room in our lives for the spirit of Christmas to come in.
Case in point: I love decorating my house for the holidays. But for years, I made the classic decorating mistake. I didn't clear out before I added in. I merely pushed picture frames and potted plants to the side to make way for porcelain nativity scenes and bowls of cinnamon-scented potpourri. As any designer will tell you, a little goes a long way. And too much stuff diminishes the impact of any one item.
Not so dissimilar from the "mindfuless" rule that applies to healthy eating. If you're cramming down your lunch while reading the paper and listening to voicemails, you probably won't taste the ginger in your carrot ginger soup. And you also won't hear your stomach sending the message that it's full.
When you merely dump holiday festivities on top of an already burgeoning schedule, chances are you'll overload the senses and be left with a nondescript plate of tasteless holiday mush.
So here's the question: Does all the holiday "merry-making" bring more stress than joy? Leaving us too frazzled and exhausted to drink in the magic?
It seems that every magazine on the shelf this time of year features a how-to article on simplifying the holidays, presumably to lower the stress quotient. They'll tell you to skip the homemade cookie batter in favor of slice and bake, send e-cards instead of ones you actually have to address and stamp, and mail-order your holiday rum cake - all in the name of creating efficiency in the machinery of holiday reveling.
I know of a woman who built a special room in her house to store a fully decorated Christmas tree on a moveable cart, so that she only had to worry with the hassle of decorating it once. She rolled it out a few weeks before Christmas and rolled it back into the closet on New Years.
Our overachieving culture would tell you the goal is to figure out a way to keep all the balls in the air while expending less energy and effort. But I would say that one of the precursers to experiencing holiday joy would be to zero in on a few special traditions and make them count more.
One of my favorite summer reads is Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift from the Sea. In it, she talks about the importance of creating "spaces" in your day, week, and year that help set apart and define the events that take place around them. Just as spaces in a sentence give meaning to a string of letters, she says that moments of quiet and solitude give form to the activities of our lives - and help us create memories.
So how to find those sacred spaces in a jam-packed December calendar? I don't think it takes that much. It could be as simple as sinking a peppermint stick in a hot mug of cocoa and sipping it by the tree, or taking a walk in the snowy woods just to take in the scenery.
I think it's a matter of stepping outside of ourselves for a moment or two to empathize with the joy or pain of others. Seizing the opportunity to celebrate what is, or lending a hand to help achieve what might be.
I love this time of year. And I'm the kind of person who wants to do it all. But I don't want to get to the end of it and wonder where the time went - or find myself lamenting that the snow never came.
So instead of waiting for the world to turn wintry white, I'm hoping that the Christmas spirit will take root and begin to grow in the spaces I'm setting aside for it.
Would a snow-filled December add to my holiday joy? Absolutely. But I'm not putting too much weight on it.