"Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." Luke 10:41-42, NIV
I remember many Christmases when it was just the three of us. My husband and me. No kids yet. No, our third wheel was Martha. Planning, performing, and always perfecting. Sometimes that seems a lifetime ago. But like the Ghost of Christmas Past, she sometimes comes back to visit me…
“Citron? Where in the world am I going to find citron?” I sank into the kitchen chair, my Christmas enthusiasm waning fast. “And who knows what citron really is anyway? But I know that Martha would not substitute those icky fluorescent green and red cherries!” Sighing, my husband walked away, just shaking his head.
That was The Christmas That I Decided to Make All Our Own Gifts. Loaves of Martha’s German stollen. Many trips to The Container Store later, the perfect ribbons were procured and tied around the perfectly creased cellophane bags filled with the snowy sugar-topped loaves. I was so exhausted once the final ribbon was on the final loaf, that we didn’t quite make it to the candlelight Christmas Eve service that year.
Then there was The Christmas That We Would Only Decorate With Fresh Greenery Because Martha Said Our Fake Garlands From Walmart Just Wouldn’t Do. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but Martha neglected to mention that it might be a good idea to pre-order the greenery at the local garden center, if your home did not sit on five acres of heavily wooded Maine forest. Alas, by the time we finished garlanding with our stand-in English ivy, we were too tired and stressed to even open the Bible for our yearly reading of the Christmas story.
If only my sister-in-law hadn’t given me that copy of “Martha Stewart’s Christmas” right after our wedding. Martha had the most perfect Christmases. At least they sure did look that way. Perfectly beribboned trees, so much delicious homemade food, and smiling guests.
I tried to restrain myself. Really, I did. Tried to keep my holiday simple and focused on Jesus. But the Perfect Martha Christmas always beckoned. For so long, I was caught in the middle. The unabridged Martha cookbook on end of my kitchen counter. The Bible on the other.
I like to think that God rescued me from the pressure of those perfect Martha Christmases, by giving me my two precious daughters.
I watch them now, patting out scraps of gingerbread in happy abandon, smiling through the snowy flour. After I’d rolled out and baked the walls, I’d handed over the random scraps of dough to the girls, to shape into the cast of players.
I always remember Martha making a gingerbread mansion for Christmas, which was usually a perfect replica of whatever historic home she was living in at the time, down to the tiniest and most painstaking detail.
“Is the stable ready yet, Mommy?” Madison asks, as she peers around me. “Yes, sweetheart. Time to bake the people!” Onto the cookie sheet they go. Gingerbread wise men, bearing tiny gifts. Gingerbread shepherds with their sheep in tow. The gingerbread Mary and Joseph are next, heads slightly askew. After the girls reverently add the tiniest scrap of gingerbread baby Jesus and place the lump of dough (the manger?) beside him, they smile at each other and then jump up to hug me tightly. And they scamper away to play.
The flour-dusted kitchen is alive with delicious aromas, as I open the oven to place our special treasures inside. The fragrant smell of the gingerbread mingles with the fresh clove-studded oranges, gently placed with cinnamon sticks atop sprigs of fresh cypress from the yard in my old wooden dough bowl on the counter beside me. The Bible sits there too, awaiting my husband to read to us about the birth of our Savior. Our tree is a potted Norfolk pine, and our only ornaments are those most special to us. The ones we’ve treasured over the years.
Simple traditions. Simple decorations. Yet they are warm, cheery and more perfect for us than any of the glossy pages in Martha’s book. I’m so glad that Martha decided to move on.
As I closed the oven door, I grinned at gingerbread baby Jesus. I’m pretty sure he was grinning back.
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