Christmas was hijacked by laundry detergent — but there was still reason to hope

It was a box of laundry detergent than undid Christmas of 1988 for the Rogers family.

Dad thought it would be a great idea for us to trek into the woods behind our house and cut down our very own Christmas tree. As a ten-year-old boy, it seemed like an awfully adventurous thing to do, but looking back, I suspect Dad was just trying to save money.

By the time we dragged the scraggly pine tree home, there was no doubt we’d gotten what we paid for: a sentimental experience that ended when Dad propped the pitiful tree against the HVAC unit behind the house.

Dad went about curing the tree’s height by rigging it onto a wooden box with hammer and nails, somehow managing to get it to stand up straight. But the tree’s real problem was its drabness. That was permanent — or so it seemed. Not to be outdone by Mother Nature, my dad went inside and came back with powdered laundry detergent.

Within minutes, Dad whipped up a witch’s brew of detergent, water, and who knows what else; and then he began coating the Christmas tree with it. We were confused at first, but then we realized that our fortunes had turned — our scraggly Mississippi pine tree had turned into the cleanest, snow-covered Christmas tree ever.

It was all downhill from there.

Shortly after Dad placed the tree in the living room, my mom began having sinus problems that only worsened as Christmas approached. Strong perfumes easily agitate her allergies.

When Mom told Dad that she was having a bad reaction to our detergent-laden tree, he didn’t take it seriously. He liked it, we liked it, and Mom was always having sinus problems. It had to be something else. His tree could not be the culprit. But it was and by the time Christmas Eve rolled around, Mom was so sick she could hardly get out of bed.

Christmas morning was depressing. Mom looked horrible, she felt horrible, and there was a pall in the living room as she tried to enjoy watching us open our presents around the toxic tree. She later told me she felt like she was going to die that day. Nonetheless, when all the present-opening was done, Mom got off the couch, dragged herself to the kitchen, and baked a ham.

When Mom collapsed into bed that afternoon, leaving us with an armful of gifts and stomachs full of dressing, the sadness of the affair hit me. All of the anticipation of Christmas had culminated into disappointment. I shut myself in my closet, threw myself onto the mountain of clothes inside, and said, “This is the worst Christmas ever.” 

Christmas 2020 is on track to be a lot of people’s worst Christmas ever. The Christmas spirit is muffled by the daily totals of people who have contracted and/or died from COVID-19 infections. People are wearing masks around their family members during holiday get-togethers (if they’re getting together with family members at all). And no matter whom you voted for during this presidential election, politics are an abject disappointment. Heaviness is in the air.

We are not alone in our Christmastime despair. Although Mary and Joseph were blessed with a miraculous announcement of Christ’s birth, there was plenty to be stressed about. Mary had to get cleaned up and ride a donkey after delivering a baby; she and Joseph must have been sleep deprived; and they all had to run for their lives to another country to keep Jesus from getting slaughtered. We romanticize the whole thing but when you think about it, it was an experience none of us would want to endure.

Mary, Joseph, and Jesus survived Christmas of 4 B.C. and God willing, we will survive Christmas of 2020. Even in the most stressful of times — this Christmas or otherwise — angels stand at the ready, waiting to announce Jesus’ arrival. Any day now, He will appear and, in His second coming, we will finally experience what we’ve all been waiting for: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4, ESV).

Whether it’s the pandemic, family tensions, financial struggles, or toxic Christmas trees that threaten to derail your enjoyment of this season, there is reason to hope. The best Christmas is coming — Emmanuel, “God with us,” is on His way (Matthew 1:23). Merry Christmas!

Check out my book, “Confessions of a Happily Married Man,” which tells the story of how God has worked in the ordinary (and extraordinary) of my marriage — and how you can see the ways He’s working in yours too.