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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The truth is Christmas Eve is actually the best day of the year.

Christmas Day is ostensibly the most wonderful day of the year: filled with good tidings of joy and hours upon hours of using your newest gifts in your pajamas (or returning them if they are socks, unless they're Christmas socks or George H.W. Bush-style socks in which case they may help you in your love life). It really is an awesome day, no doubt. It's the day Jesus Christ, our Savior, was born...or at least, the celebration of his birth! Can't get much better than that, right? It's the day we eagerly run down the stairs to see what goodies are under the tree. Can't get more exciting than that, right?


All that is great but the truth is that Christmas Eve is actually the best day of the year. Christmas itself can sometimes be underwhelming -- please don't accuse me of being part of the War on Christmas!!! I love this time of year, it is my favorite time as anyone who knows me can tell you, I swear!! -- but the inherent buoyancy of the anticipation of Christmas Day is what makes Christmas Eve unique and special.

Further, Christmas Day can be disappointing if you a) did not get the gifts you expected, b) if your gifts were not well-received by their recipients {that's arguably way worse}, c) are let down by the fact that the day means the actual end of the joyful, holiday music-filled, and cheery Christmas season {that's me, right here!}, or d) find yourself, seriously, unable to rise to the level of the extreme happiness that is expected of you on that day.

Sometimes, it's impossible to meet those expectations. And that's okay. For a lot of us, Christmas -- for many reasons ranging from personal tragedies that happened during the holiday season or on that day in the past to the stress of making sure everything goes swimmingly with regards to food and family plans to the constant pressure to be super-joyous despite internal struggles -- can be a bit exhausting. Beyond that, it can be truly saddening toward the final hours of the day, as you realize the time has closed on the holiday season, or, to quote John Lennon, "so this is Christmas and what have you done?"

It's not in my place to judge anyone's feelings or emotions or to be the one who decrees that "it's okay" to feel that way on Christmas. But, for what it's worth, I don't impugn anyone who does. It's totally understandable, given a lot of the societal expectations of Christmas. Then again, I still do love the holiday; there's nothing quite like it because it merges together the beautiful spirit of our Savior and the celebration of His work and life with the presence of family with the joy of generosity and loving towards one another. Also, let's be real: the movies and music are heartwarming and catchy, respectively.

Nevertheless, it is the day before Christmas that takes the cake. As aforementioned, the anticipation of Santa Claus, of the next day, and of the possibilities of Christmas is too beautiful not to adore, especially for children. One of the greatest films in American history, the inspirational It's a Wonderful Life, is on television every December 24, reminding us of how, as Mister Rogers said, each one of us makes an impact on others that can never be fully known but is real and effectual.

We go to church on Christmas Eve, a ritual that reminds us of the sacrifice Jesus paid and how significant his birth was. Going to church also reinvigorates, even for a fleeting moment, the kind of community spirit that we've been lacking in our country recently, as Robert Putnam has extensively written about in Bowling Alone. We engage in fun nighttime cultural vestiges like playing boardgames, tracking Santa Claus' whereabouts on the NORAD tracker, and leaving cookies and milk for Santa. You have some concrete plans, all centered around the magic of Christmas suspense, and, in my humble opinion, there's nothing better than that.