It’s Christmas morning in the early 2000s. Rainbow lights tucked between evergreen branches twinkle above me. Shredded gift wrap litters the floor like candy wrappers. Steven Curtis Chapman sings softly from our CD player.
Out of nowhere, it strikes. A painful ping in my chest accompanied by an unwelcome thought. This will be over soon.
I wave the thought away like a pesky gnat, then reach across the carpet of pine needles to pick up my newest Barbie doll.
It comes back later that day. I’m crammed onto a sofa with my cousins. Our bellies are stuffed with Mom-Mom’s homemade chocolate chip raisin cookies and Pizzelles. A Christmas Story is playing on TV for the seventh time today. My parents told me and my siblings to get ready to leave an hour ago, which means we’ll be here for at least another hour.
The gnat buzzes by again. It’s almost over.
It was the best Christmas ever. I woke up to a fresh dusting of snow on the ground outside. I checked off almost every box on my wish list to Santa. I spent the entire day at my grandmother’s house, where my cousins and I played together to the soundtrack of our parents’ laughter.
And yet, I get home that night and crawl into bed with a hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach. A week later, on January 1st, I cry myself to sleep at the thought of returning to school the next day. That mean little gnat can’t be ignored any longer.
Christmas Magic Still Disappoints
In the years since that “perfect” Christmas, there have been different causes for my post-holiday letdown. Sometimes it’s the disappointment of the day itself. Maybe I’m missing a member of the family who isn’t there to celebrate that year. Maybe I’m grieving another Christmas season spent without a person to do all the fun Hallmark couple things with. Some years, I’m just struggling to pay the bills and don’t have much money left over for gifts.
Other times, my sadness simply stems from the realization that my favorite time of year has an expiration date. Christmas music will stop playing on the radio. Holiday lights will be put away until next December. Christmas movies won’t be acceptable to watch again for another eleven months. The buildup that started after October 31st culminates in twenty-four hours of festive chaos. Then, December 26th comes around, and it’s back to real life again.
Of course, this feeling isn’t exclusive to Christmas. It can creep up after vacations, graduations, promotions, wedding days, or retirement parties. Any time we have something big to look forward to, post-celebration dissatisfaction feels inevitable. So we desperately look to our calendars to find the next date we can circle in red, the next celebration or milestone we can make a mental paper chain to count down to. The hard truth is that even the best things in this life are temporary. We wait months or even years for moments that pass in the blink of an eye.
And no matter how wonderful that moment is—whether it’s the first kiss as husband and wife, the first look into a newborn’s eyes, or a childhood Christmas that feels like magic—it won’t put our insatiable hearts at rest.
Looking to the God Who Exceeds Our Expectations
The Jewish people could probably relate to the feeling of post-Christmas disappointment. They waited four hundred years for their Messiah to show up. They expected their Savior to be a military leader in royal robes, riding into Jerusalem on a chariot with fire blazing from its wheels.
Instead, they got a baby. A baby who grew into a man who spent three years preaching and performing miracles and washing dirty feet and eating with sinners. A man who didn’t build an army and make a power grab for the throne of Israel. A man who instead subjected himself to the death of a common criminal.
The gift they’d been waiting for was nothing like they’d imagined the Messiah would be, so they didn’t even recognize the value of the better gift he offered.
But they—and we—have a God who exceeds our expectations. And this God is kind enough to meet us in our post-Christmas disappointment by pointing us to a gift better than we could have dreamed of ourselves.
So I remind myself that the Son of God loves me—and you—enough to swaddle himself in flesh and become as vulnerable as an infant in a manger (Luke 2:7). The spotless Lamb who lived a perfect life among imperfect people then clothed himself in our sin and shame and took them to the grave (2 Cor. 5:21).
And this Lamb is coming back one day to rescue his sheep (John 14:3). He is preparing a place for us to live with him and his Father forever, a place where there is no death or crying or pain (Rev. 21:3–4). A place where nothing good will ever come to an end.
A place better than the best Christmas morning we can imagine.
Meet the Author
Kati Lynn is a writer and artist whose deepest hope is that the stories she tells will draw other women closer to the heart of God. She loves to explore the intersection of faith, mental health, and media in her writing. You can keep up with Kati Lynn by signing up for her newsletter.