By James M. Decker
Last year, shortly before Christmas, I wrote about my favorite Christmas song, Merle Haggard’s “If We Make It Through December.” This year, I wanted to turn my attention to that song right as the calendar rolls over into December, to carry us through the next month.
As I wrote last year, “If We Make It Through December” is about the brutal realities of Christmas time for too many people: miserable weather, hard times, and worries about being able to make your children happy. And yet, the entire song if filled with hope. Merle sings:
Got plans to be in a warmer town come summertime
Maybe even California
If we make it through December, we'll be fine
If Merle can just make it through December, life will get better. If you study the lyrics, there’s no real guarantee that life will actually improve. There’s nothing tangible happening in January: no new job, pay increase, or anything like that. He simply has hope that there IS something out there. If you don’t have hope, the world can be a mean, dark, miserable place, but as long as you still have hope, you’ve always got a chance.
In this day and age, it’s very easy to become inundated and annoyed by the Christmas season. Christmas cheer can drown in a tsunami of television ads, harried shopping trips, and exhausting efforts to “win” Christmas with your children, family members, or neighbors.
Our rural communities are the same way. We can drive through other towns and lament that our downtown Christmas decorations are not as impressive as theirs. How do their lights on the main street look so perfect? Why do some towns have an excellent Christmas parade and others struggle to keep a parade going?
Ultimately, there’s nothing wrong with the commercial aspects of Christmas. Our lives can be happier with children taking pictures with Santa Claus, family members exchanging gifts, and streets full of beautiful Christmas lights. But was it worth what it took to accomplish it? Sure, our communities can look great when they’re all decked out for Christmas. But how much stress and in-fighting did it take for the community to look that good? None of that is the be-all, end-all of the Christmas season. Christmas can be successful whether your gift cost $2.00 or $2,000.00. The be-all, end-all was born in a manger in Bethlehem so many years ago.
As the Christmas season ramps up in the coming weeks, we’ll all be stressed, exhausted, or annoyed at some point or another. We’ll wonder if we’re doing Christmas well enough to satisfy our family and friends or to make our communities proud. But when we face those inevitable struggles, think back to Merle Haggard. He wasn’t worried about a downtown full of Christmas lights or providing a truly legendary Christmas for his children. He was just hoping to afford to buy SOMETHING, ANYTHING for his kids.
When you get down this next month, think about Merle and think about hope. Think about the hope provided by the birth of Jesus Christ and think about the hope in your own life. All of us will make it through December and we’ll be fine.
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James Decker is a lawyer, farmer, and mayor in Stamford, Texas, and the creator of the forthcoming “West of 98” podcast and website. He may be contacted through Facebook at facebook.com/james.decker. Listen to our podcast interview with James here.