Christmas, Car Wrecks, and That Surreal Feeling


Of course being a child at Christmas is something you’ll never get back.

The particular sleeplessness of the night before is what I always remember most clearly about childhood Christmases. I was always in a bed with my older sister Sophie. We were the keepers of Christmas—old enough to be able to offer well-placed hints to the younger girls about what was coming, and young enough to believe that anything was possible.  This was when all of us still wore nightgowns.

Picking a candy to request for our stockings was part of the process of becoming individuals, according to the unwritten code. Cherry cordials for one of the younger girls. White chocolate for Sophie. Chocolate-covered pretzels for me.

Photo by Caley Dimmock on Unsplash

After that night of giggling sleep-repression we would find, with a groggy wonder, that it had happened—Christmas morning had come! We weren’t allowed to go downstairs until the whole household was awake, so naturally, the first order of business was to put a rush on that process. In a pre-dawn light, we informed every person in every bed about the turn of events.

“Christmas is here! It’s Christmas! It’s morning! It’s Christmas!”

My parents, we were always incredulous to find, actually seemed to wake and dress quickly on Christmas morning. Were they excited about Christmas too? Of course they were. How could they not be?

Papa, in his blue matching sweatsuit and brown slippers, yawning and swiping a palm from his eyes over his forehead and hair, shortly stood with us at the top of the stairs. There was a lot of jostling and whispering, laughing and frizzy pillow curls. Socks dominated the scene.

The call came. The bugle blew, in the form of Mama saying something like “Could you get the coffee going?”

And following Papa’s lead, we all tumbled downstairs.

“Is this really happening?” I distinctly wondered. I rounded a corner and caught a glimpse of the stockings, which had been hanging there empty on the mantel for about a thousand years. Now they were full. The passing of time overwhelmed me; I was nine.

That Surreal Feeling

How can you ever recapture that moment of tumbling down the stairs? Of course, it’s still exciting, later on—but the exquisite, jarring shock of the early years?  It’s not there in subsequent Christmas mornings. Not quite.

You get a taste of it in other experiences, though. That surreal feeling returns to you anytime something happens that you have long awaited and sometimes doubted as a possibility.

It returned to me when I had a car wreck at sixteen. Surreal. “Is this really happening?” It returned whenever my mother had babies. And when I had babies myself. And the day I got married (and the night I got married), the day I walked into a college classroom for the first time, the moment I went out on stage at the Dove Awards, the several times in life that I was caught in a major lie. It’s also the way I imagine it will feel to be dying.

“Is this really happening? Could it be happening? I suppose it must be—because there it is. The stocking is full.”

And is this what heaven will be like, too? When we finally enter heaven, see our Lord, stand with other myriads upon myriads of people who are thinking the same thing—“Is this really happening? It must be. For there He stands.” It will be our final Christmas morning, car crash, birth, wedding, and death. When I grope for some idea of a what our emotions will be, it’s only the surreal feeling that I can imagine.

I don’t have all the physical sense details. I only know our vague ideas about what we will will experience will finally be enfleshed. Suddenly the shadowy pictures we had from scripture will be filled into sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell.

And our Lord himself. We will finally have a “face for the name.” Can you imagine what it will be like when the stories of Baby Jesus in a manger and King Jesus walking in Jerusalem and Lord Jesus sitting at the right hand of the Father suddenly become a man standing in the same room with us? The images that we have tried to conjure up as we were addressing our Savior—can you imagine when these images suddenly become someone whose eye color we know?

We’ll remember the shocks from before—the full stocking, the car crushing our passenger side door, the baby wiggling out into the air, the slow walk down the aisle holding roses—these were always whispering to us about this moment, right here.

“Is this really happening?” It is. Think about that when you round the corner and see a full stocking.

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