Christmas Cheer

Like many of you, I’ve been checking off items on my to-do list as I prepare for Christmas. In fact, I’ve got multiple lists! We’ve still got a few gifts to purchase, some homemade gifts to finish, and some food to prepare before holiday gatherings. Each day, I complete a task or two and then revise my list, recalculating to make sure everything will be done “on time”.

And while I’m doing that, I’m insisting that my students attend to their own lists.Yes, we are still in school. Our last day is Thursday, December 22. Between now and then, my seniors will complete an essay, which many of them have not yet started. They’ll write a rough draft, participate in peer review, attend to revisions, and carefully proofread before submitting their final drafts. We’re on a tight schedule, but if we stick to our lists, they [and I] will complete everything right on time.

Sounds like no problem, but we’re all kind of over it, if I’m going to be honest — the getting up in the dark, traveling to school in the cold, filing into the building, taking our places, and trudging through the motions, day after day after day.

And, as though she had her finger on the ho-hum pulse of the collective arm of our community, our instructional coach created a spirit week for this of all weeks — the week that I’ve scheduled down to the minute with very little room for getting off task.

The announcement came on Friday at around 1:30. “Get excited, everyone! Next week is spirit week!”

Sigh.

Monday we’ll have a door decorating competition. Tuesday everyone will enjoy hot chocolate and cookies at lunch. Wednesday will be ugly sweater day, and Thursday, our last day at school before break, will be Holiday Cheer Day, where everyone is encouraged to wear Santa hats, jingle bells, or other holiday items.

My first response on Friday afternoon at 1:30pm, as I was wrapping up the week’s work and preparing for the final push, was a very Scrooge-y “Seriously? One more thing to cram into next week?” and “You really want me to take time out of class on Monday to decorate my classroom door? My students are writing a paper!?!?!”

Then I progressed to, “I don’t even have an ugly Christmas sweater!” and “I need to bring supplies to decorate my door?”

Didn’t she know about my lists and my strategy for getting each item ticked off before Christmas? How was I going to fit MORE to-dos onto my lists?

But this morning, my eyes are turned to our students.

This past week, as we have been preparing to write our personal essays, my students have been sharing scenes from their lives, letting me in just a bit, sharing a peek at the things that have shaped them.

Calvin’s* mother died in 2017, when he was just 13. He said it “messed me up”. He found comfort in eating and ballooned to over 300 pounds. But, last summer, an area gym offered free memberships to teens, so he joined. He and his sister, who he now lives with, stopped eating fast food and started cooking at home, and he has lost over 70 pounds. He wants to keep going; his goal is to look sharp for prom — one of the biggest days in the lives of our students.

Monette*, who started this school year pregnant but gave birth and then lost her young son a few days later, says she wants to write about this experience. She says holding her son was a moment she was proud, and losing him was the biggest hurt of her life.

Hope* engaged in an argument with someone on Twitter who claimed that Breonnna Taylor’s boyfriend was a drug dealer. She searched for evidence to disprove his theory and stayed at it until the original post was deleted.

Kevin’s* enlisting in the Army. He spent last summer training with his recruiters, cutting the weight he gained during Covid. He’s our valedictorian, and his ASVAB score qualifies him for just about any military training he chooses. He’s going through the steps now to ensure that he’ll start boot camp just a couple weeks after graduation.

These seniors of mine stand at the edge of adulthood, where the choices they are making have long-lasting impact. They are showing up each day, working hard, and looking forward to a not-too-distant future where they will be responsible for every aspect of their lives. It’s heavy, and I need to take a moment to acknowledge that.

The weight they are carrying goes beyond checking off items on their Christmas to-do list, beyond choosing which salad they will make for Christmas Eve, beyond what gift to purchase for a colleague. They are engaging with real adult stuff — health, loss, political engagement, and military service — when they have a few fleeting moments left to enjoy being kids.

What will it cost me to allow them a little bit of fun this week? a little bit of encouragement? A little reward for continuing to show up even when they are over it?

And won’t I enjoy it, too? Won’t it be fun seeing my seniors scrambling within the 10 minutes they have been allotted to decorate my classroom door, glancing over their shoulders at the classes across the hall to see what they are doing?

Won’t it be great to see our students sipping cocoa and dunking Christmas cookies?

Won’t it bring some laughs and joy to compare our ugly Christmas sweaters?

And won’t it lighten the mood to hear some jingle bells in the hallway?

Yes, of course, yes.

So, I dragged myself out today, found an ugly sweater that I will try to make uglier before Wednesday. I picked up some supplies for our door decorating contest, and while I was out I bought a chai latte to sip on as my attitude finished adjusting.

I checked some other items off my to-do list, too, and then reminded myself to relax. What gets done, gets done. Christmas is about more than my to-do list. It’s about seeing the people in front me, enjoying the time I have with them, and sharing the joy of a love that offers hope, restoration, and a future.

Once again, my instructional coach gave me just what I needed.

for unto [us] is born this day, a Savior”

Luke 2:11

*All names changed, of course.

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