Christmas can be the happiest time of the year, or the hardest.

The season comes with so many cultural trappings, childhood memories, and family dynamics that it can be an emotional minefield. Some people love it, others dread it. Most of us, I suspect, fall somewhere in between.

Christmas, as much as anything, surfaces and marks the changes in our lives — whether there are still kids in the house, who’s still there to buy presents for, where to spend Christmas day.

And then there’s decorating. Do you even bother? Some find it easier not to. But if you do make the effort, what then? Do you pull out the artificial tree and devote the time needed for assembly and shaping and trying to make it resemble something real? Or do you buy a real tree and finagle it home in the car and make it fit into the stand and then try to keep it from drying up and shedding within a week?

When the kids are grown, or close to it, do you still hang the popsicle stick stars and paper plate portraits from kindergarten and the “baby’s first Christmas” ornaments? If you’re decorating solo, who do you ask?

The vagaries of life that complicate Christmas cheer offer one more reason to look past the cultural Christmas trappings and contemplate a bare manger, a young mother, and a baby — the hope of the world gift-wrapped in swaddling clothes.


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