One past whirlwind December day I was out running errands. I was only slightly frantic, my hurried breath only occasionally  deliberate as I focused, focused, focused on the many Christmas tasks ahead. The list was long, the time was short. But I believed in miracles.

No matter that two of our then young children were striving to put things  in my cart faster than I could take them out. Or that my Costco card had slipped to the bottom of my “why did I buy this” purse.  I could not find my card! It was hard to find anything in the clutter convention that had become this purse. The purse was clearly too big. It was so big it had entered large tote bag territory.  It was so big that a friend had jokingly asked if I was raising another child in it it. Whatever. I was stressed, but I was trying to remain calm, partially because Christmas songs everywhere kept telling me that this was “the most wonderful time of the year!!”

Maybe I was tired, but some of  the songs felt a little like pressure. They were reminding me that on Christmas Day we humans should  be the cheeriest, out in the snow-iest, marshmallow toasting-est, party hosting-est, and chestnut roasting-est of all.  

Sigh. I had never, to my recollection, seen a chestnut. I’m sure some and come and gone, but until that point, it was all stealth in the chestnut department. And roasting them? Huh?

Whoever wrote these songs meant well, of course. And I actually  do love Christmas songs. But some of them did seem to be writing Christmas checks for expectations that my reality elves couldn’t cash. The  background music in every store I was in seemed to be begging me to “Have a Merry Christmas! Come On! Have One Already! Do Whatever it Takes!”  

I looked at my little children. Were there visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads that I had not fulfilled? Was there a recipe for sugar plums? A website?  How was I going to create the perfectly trimmed Christmas of their supposed dreams? Or was this actually my dream, fueled by Pinteresting images?

I tried not to worry about ideals, trying to just zoom in on what was the current deal.  We wrapped, sang, trimmed, and hugged. We created, spilled, and cleaned in a sort of forever loop. We put lights up. We looked at lights as we drove around.  We laughed till tears sprung from our eyes, and sometimes tears just sprang from our eyes. We made mistakes. We forgave. We “family-ed”. It was all tender and a little chaotic and it was all good.

But one night, the Christmas perfection gremlin came knocking  again. My husband and children were asleep and I was in the kitchen, finishing up the final touches on my Yule log. Just kidding. My yule log of yesteryear was apparently on sabbatical.

Instead,  I had purchased a Christmas sheet cake with little frosting reindeers and a sleigh. I stared at that cake in the semi-darkness of my kitchen. The perfection gremlin whispered “You didn’t make a homemade cake.” I considered. This was true.  “Annnd….you are far away from your parents and siblings. You miss them so much.” Hmm…. also true. “Don’t you feel a little bit sorry for yourself?” I did! Was it time to throw a pity party? Suddenly I had a hankering for a fresh dollop of frosting reindeer.

I got up and walked to the family room. I looked at our Christmas tree. Maybe the cake was sub par, maybe some family members were far… but there was that one… star…on our average, perfectly happy Christmas tree. That tree star was shiny. It seemed to be shining with love, acceptance and hope….

Recently, I looked into the meaning of the word Christmas, and it felt like a  little exhale. Here is what I learned:

Christ means “Messiah”.  Messiah means anointed. Anciently, persons who were anointed were elected, designated, and given authority.  

“Mas” has several translations. One is: “Go, you are sent.” Another focuses on the celebration of Christ and His sacrifice for us.

If we put this all together, when we wish someone a Merry Christmas, perhaps what we are saying in essence is “There is someone (glorious)  in charge, someone anointed. Go, you are sent to celebrate and share this good news of Christ.”

To our great exhalation breath, Christmas is not, after all,  a singular day of the year, reserved for pressure. Christmas is a reminder of the one who made life, love, and forgiveness possible all year. It’s the observance of our ability to go forth to love, serve, bless, obey, hug and grow. This is the Christ created year round formula for happiness. In other words: We’re all going to be OK even, if necessary, without the icicle lights. He’s the truest light we forever need.

Next time I am wished a Merry Christmas, I want to remember this  deeper meaning.

It’s not the chestnuts roasting, it’s about the party He’s  forever hosting.

And we’re all invited…

Merry Christmas (no pressure:)


  • Mary Bell


    MaryJo Bell is the author of the Costco bestseller "The Pursuit of Happi-nest", a silly and serious guide for deep happiness (in family "nests") for everyone. You can find it in these online places, among others: Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Walmart, Target, and Cedar Fort (best price). She is also the author of "I Can Feel it in My Heart", a book for kids, to help them learn to avoid dangerous media. It arrives in May, 2023. She is also the host of the popular podcast, "Moms Meet World." She loves homemade popcorn, tossed with a skooch of olive oil and sea salt, and her entire family. And God. Not in that order.