We placed the white candles in their silver candlestick holders down the length of the burlap runner on our farm table. A galvanized pail sat in the center of the table, full of greens that we brought in from one of the pine trees in our woods. The beautiful little flames warmed the room and made it look so Christmassy.
Ten chairs waited expectantly for our guests – a handful of friends who would join us for our first (hopefully annual) “Little Women Christmas Party”.
Our oldest daughters helped to prepare the menu – inspired by the March’s own Christmas breakfast. We grilled pork sausages, arranged juicy slices of Florida oranges, warmed dinner rolls, and smoothed whipped butter into a crock.
The Chocolate Pave’ came out of the oven in just enough time to cool. Our 8 year-old lovingly sprinkled powdered sugar across the crackled cake and arranged holly leaves and a few berries for decoration. While we scurried around the kitchen, I felt the excitement of the occasion. And yet, something was wrong. My heart ached for the friends we couldn’t invite – the many, many friends we would have loved to gather in our home, but simply couldn’t because of our capacity and abilities this year. Besides, I knew this type of party thrives with a small, intimate gathering, but still it hurt to think about the friends we were missing.
Minutes before the guests were to arrive, we found a “Little Women Film Score” Pandora station that played the most fitting background music. We weren’t wearing time-period dresses or hair-do’s, but the music made us feel like our skirts were swishing and we could rightly describe ourselves as “bustling about”. The atmosphere was just right for this delightful evening of a Little Women dinner and movie with our dear friends. It had all of the makings of one of childhood’s dearest memories. As the crowning piece in our feast, our vintage copy of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women was propped against the white bowl filled with oranges.
And yet, something was wrong. I could hear my two-year old throwing a fit upstairs. Her stomping feet and dismal cries echoed through the floor boards and overpowered the beautiful background music. Her nap had gone late and she was positively melted down. I grabbed a dinner roll and snuck upstairs, crawling hands-and-knees to greet her in the most non-threatening way I could imagine. “Hey, Sweetie… I brought you a dinner roll… Do you want to come downstairs yet?” For the past 15 minutes, I had been working with her, trying to calm her down and get her in the mood for a magical Christmas party. Needless to say, she wasn’t feeling the magic.
Once the guests arrived, the little girl forgot her troubles and came downstairs meekly. She had that look – you know the one – totally worn out from her pre-party fit, but truly wanting to leave it all behind her and move on into the magic. I couldn’t blame her. It was going to be a great night.
The meal was delicious, and the view of such darling faces gathered around the table touched my heart. We shared favorite Christmas traditions – one girl said, “Eggnog!” another said, “When we all pile on the couch at my grandparents’ house”. A third said, “Getting there.”
After dessert, we moved into the living room and started the movie, which is its own work of art. Half-way through we paused the movie so we could ladle the mulled apple cider and pop the sweet-touch popcorn. We truly were bustling about at this point. And yet, something went wrong. One girl ladled the apple cider while another held the mugs. Suddenly, we heard an “ouch!” and realized that some of the simmering cider had splashed on a little one’s hand. She quickly plunged it under cold water, but it hurt. And sticky cider dribbled over the countertop onto the floor. We washed it up. The ladler felt so terrible about the accident that she hid behind her mother. “It’s okay, it’s okay,” we were able to say, thankfully.
And yet, something else went wrong. Two minutes later, my oldest daughter ran into the kitchen and said, “The little one just threw up!” I grabbed some paper towels and ran into the living room where our poor, sweet two year old lay on the couch, looking very very sad. I stooped down to clean her up, to clean the couch, the ottoman, the pillow, the floor. While I disinfected the couch, I wondered if our friends would want to stay and finish the movie? Or would they want to grab their coats and scurry out the door?
They stayed. I tucked the babies into bed, we finished popping corn, ladling apple cider, and gathered back in the living room for the beloved conclusion of the movie. Needless to say, I was the only one who sat on the couch after the intermission.
After all was said and done, the tears wiped away, the sighs of relief about Jo’s fine engagement to Professor Baer, we said “good bye” to one another and sent our guests on their way.
I lay in bed that night wondering if it was a good party or not.
Was it magical?
Was it special?
Or did the vomit ruin everything? Would the mothers now have to worry for the next two days if their own broods would start vomiting all over their couches, ottomans, pillows, and floors?
Would it ruin the entire holiday season?
I felt that age-old ache of remorse and regret when special things – like parties – aren’t perfect. In those moments, all I can do is focus on that one thing that didn’t go right, and I can’t make it go away.
I turned to our Heavenly Father and asked – like a little girl who had maybe ruined something or broken something – “Is it okay?”
I immediately remembered this…
“the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. ” 1 Corinthians 11:23-26
I realized that if Jesus hadn’t made a special effort to celebrate the Passover with his friends – to speak to them dearly and to fellowship and feast with them – that night would simply be “that night, he was betrayed”. The specially-chosen room, the food, the wine, the sitting close, the conversation, and the blessing… all transformed the tragedy of “he was betrayed,” into history’s singular celebration dinner: the Last Supper, a glorious and ageless tradition amongst family and friends, honoring our Savior, Jesus.
“He was betrayed,” fades into powerlessness when the cup is lifted and the bread is passed amongst friends.
On the same night… Jesus took the bread… and gave thanks.
And our humble night, gathered around the farm table? Well, without the party maybe it would’ve just been “the toddler threw a fit.”
Or, “they left people out.”
Or, “the girl burnt her hand”.
Or, “the friend hid behind her mother in embarrassment”.
Or, “the baby vomited all over everything and potentially contaminated three families full of children and pets. At Christmas time.”
But, there was candle light. And laughter. There was real, delicious sausage and orange slices. There was Chocolate Pave with holly berries and a sugar shaker. There were stories and snuggling, tears, and laughter. There were mothers and daughters, gathered together at Christmas time. A small glimpse of redemption.
I’ll take it.
So, if your party isn’t exactly what you imagined and wanted, shift your perspective toward the heavens: see that every good and perfect gift comes from God. His goodness – and the glories of celebration – make life’s inevitable mistakes, regrets, and disasters bearable. They remind us that a perfect party is coming…
Merry Christmas, my friends!