The Cloak of Obligation

It’s nearly December, and in spite of putting up my Christmas tree two weeks ago, hanging stockings, listening to Christmas Jazz on Pandora Radio at work all day, and ordering a few Christmas presents online, I’m just not feeling it yet.  Four days from now, I’m supposed to begin our countdown to Christmas and I haven’t even made the advent calendar yet, and reading how excited I was for the holiday season last year only increases the dread.  I can’t risk recycling last year’s because I don’t really want to go Christmas shopping with the kids on a random Thursday or have to bake cookies on a night when I don’t get out of work until 5:30.

Where is my holiday spirit? 

I think it is wedged underneath this feeling of obligation to make December magical in the face of all of the other obligations I’ve set up for myself as the year comes to a close.  Traditions like I always create our family photo album on Shutterfly at this time of the year along with a photocard if I’m feeling like mailing cards to people.  And I always write in a “Christmas book” to report on what has happened in the Wells home this past year.  And decorating outside; the kids want to put up lights.  And baking Christmas cookies.  And shopping and wrapping.  And making homemade Christmas gifts – probably revisiting the cinnamon ornament of Christmases past.  And this Advent project I did last year, which was so much fun, and the kids are asking about it, looking forward to it, but I just feel tired.

These should be fun things, but because we also have to continue washing clothes and making meals and doing homework and paying bills, I feel Christmas tradition pressing down on me like a heavy cloak.  I have to do them.  I have to also keep reading and keep writing and I want to learn how to play the bass clef on the piano and I want to read with Lydia from Harry Potter each night and I need to also listen to Elvis read and encourage that fragile spirit of his towards confidence and I need to nurse Henry back to health from his bout of pneumonia last weekend and I need to someday speak to my husband as my husband instead of co-parent.


I say, no.  If the holiday season becomes a burden of “have to’s” and “musts” and loses its spontaniety, its mystery, its silent nights, our spirits will become enslaved, and the very freedom of grace and love and peace that is promised by the coming of Christ we celebrate December 25 will lose its power as we dissolve into the madness of Target at 3 a.m. on Black Friday (or 9 p.m. Thanksgiving Day), the daily weight of activity jammed into each minute leading up to a supposed day of rest and gratitude.

Here on Thanksgiving Eve, I think I will do what I find myself needing every day to do lately, open my clenched fist and let go.  I will let go of the cloak of obligation and necessity that is choking my delight, and let it fall to the floor, let it get buried by the falling snow, and watch from my back window with a steaming cup of hot tea, Nat King Cole crooning, “Although it’s been said, many times, many ways, Merry Christmas to you.”  I will hold in my hand warmth and peace, give thanks for all there is to be thankful for, and ready myself for rest.  I do not have to do anything that will drive me out into the cold to fetch that cloak of obligation. 

I will stop on my way into the house and feel the flakes of winter fall on my face, listen to the muted world, and try to find a silent night.

Published by Sarah M. Wells

Sarah M. Wells is the author of The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Gospels to Help Kids and Parents Love God and Love Others (2022), American Honey: A Field Guide to Resisting Temptation (2021), Between the Heron and the Moss (2020), The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Bible to Help Kids and Parents Engage and Love Scripture (2018), Pruning Burning Bushes (2012), and a chapbook of poems, Acquiesce, winner of the 2008 Starting Gate Award through Finishing Line Press (2009). Sarah's work has been honored with four Pushcart Prize nominations, and her essays have appeared in the notable essays list in the Best American Essays 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2018. Sarah is the recipient of a 2018 Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. She resides in Ashland, Ohio with her husband and three children.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: