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When Christmas isn’t perfect

by Merrie Eizenga

Everything was going exactly as planned. The three-year-olds’ class had just presented a stirring rendition of “C is for the Christ Child.” My firstborn, decked out in his little red sweater, held his Bristol board “B” with precision well beyond his years. On cue the group scampered to the back of the platform and crawled up on designated bales of hay. I smiled with relief. I had just survived my son’s first Christmas concert.

For years I had heard stories of other people’s kids ruining concerts by acting, well, like kids. But the pressure was finally off. My kid performed flawlessly. With the lights still low, the pastor had taken centre stage and was closing the evening when a fistful of hay flew by. A muffled cackle spread through the first few rows.

I leaned over to the mom beside me and whispered, “Some poor mother in here must be dying of embarrassment.” At that moment I saw a familiar flash of red bolt across the stage with a handful of hay. It suddenly dawned on me that I might as well wave goodbye to my dreams of a picture-perfect Christmas. Apparently, now that I was a mother, those days were gone for good.

Frankly, though, the saga of the Eizenga “less than perfect Christmas” began long before the kids were ever born. Take for instance the Christmas Eve when Marshall disappeared while we were visiting my mom and dad at their apartment building.

“I’m running down to the car to get the gifts,” he hollered, “l’ll be back in five minutes.”

An hour and a half later we still had no gifts. And no Marshall. While I sat griping about his obvious lack of commitment to the tasks at hand, he was sitting quietly in the corner of a darkened elevator humming “O Holy Night” and waiting to be rescued from the vault that held him captive.

Then there was the notable year we all got what we thought was food poisoning. I remember dragging myself to the phone, dialling the hospital and begging them to send an ambulance to pick us up. They mumbled some foolishness about it not being a real emergency and said we’d have to get there on our own. Easy for them to say. None of us could leave the bathroom long enough to start the vehicle.

Oh, and we can’t forget the extraordinary Christmas Eve that my housecoat caught on fire, or the memorable Christmas Day I got snowed in, all alone, in a house with no food.

And let’s not leave out the Christmas that our kids got into a full-blown fight about who was going to put the angel on the top of the tree.

“It’s mine turn,” the one shrieked.

“It’s not,” the other screamed.

They both got sent to their rooms and I consoled myself with a dozen and a half holiday shortbreads while bemoaning the loss of my precious “Martha Stewart” tree trimming celebration.

Oh yes, the Eizengas have some colourful tales to tell. But the truth is, no matter who we are, Christmas isn’t perfect for any of us. We all have to deal with a mix of the unexpected, the unwanted, the unmanageable and the unbelievable.

For most of us, though, these inevitable festive annoyances are fairly inconsequential. But let’s not forget others this Christmas who will have to face significant challenges. An empty house. An empty bank account. An empty heart. These dear folks understand in full measure the concept of a “less than perfect Christmas.” What a great comfort for all of us to know (whether we’re dealing with unpredictable little boys in red sweaters or the emptiness of a lost dream) that while Christmas may not be perfect, the One we celebrate is.

Update: That three year old is now a 33-year-old firefighter in Edmonton, AB. He has a little two-year-old daughter who has a favourite sweater that just happens to be red.

Merrie Eizenga is one of the program directors at the Alberta Kerith Retreats location with her husband, Marshall. For more information about our retreats, visit

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