I haven't started feeling very Christmas-y yet, have you? If so, you may not want to read on — you can just go enjoy all that Christmas spirit. But if you, like me, have been struggling to get in the holiday mood, you might want to stay with me.

I don't know about you, but part of my problem is being old-fashioned — feeling that the run-up to Christmas doesn't properly begin until at least Dec. 15. Starting too early makes the feeling hard to sustain. And then, besides being old-fashioned, I'm just plain — old. My parents and grandparents are gone. I have no children, and often don't get to see my nieces and nephews, all of whom are adults now, anyway. So I miss the times when my first family, the one you don't get to pick, and in which I was so lucky, was gathered together.

I love being with Maureen and the dogs — the family I have chosen — but I also feel nostalgic for the Christmases of my childhood and young adulthood. The sense of warmth, love and belonging I had then is an experience I doubt will ever be repeated in my life.

But I am grateful to have known it. It's so easy to forget that not everyone gets to have that. Even if they are very comfortable and have lots of stuff, the love and belonging may not be there. And if parents are not emotionally strong, if they are too wounded themselves to give their kids a sense of security, the holidays can be just another source of pain. The civic mythology around Christmas can just be another set of expectations they can't live up to.

Expectations have so much to do with how we experience our lives. If the Christmas we experience is compared to some glowing ideal depicted in ads, or movies, or memories — or even in our imaginations — it will probably fall short. And perhaps expecting ourselves to feel a particular way every year is as much of a set-up as anything else. Perhaps a Christmas season tinged with nostalgia, with longing, is no bad thing.

Some of the joy of this time is contained in memories for me, and for lots of people. But there is also the pleasure of buying, or making, gifts that will bring happiness to the people you love, the comfort of traditions like Christmas trees with their hand-me-down ornaments, the music heard year-in and year-out, the gatherings with friends.

It seems important to me not to make Christmas into a performance, something that must be done to impress others, or to make yourself feel that you did it "right."

If we're going to celebrate Christmas, and not just a winter solstice gift-exchange, we ought to remember that Jesus wasn't left under a Christmas tree by Santa Claus. He was a human child, born to a young mother in unpromising circumstances. We ought to remember that, beyond the gifts, the decorations, the lights, the carols and the parties, Christmas celebrates the in-breaking of divine love and the longing for innocence restored to a naughty, weary world.

In a very real sense, Christmas offers humanity a second chance, every year.

I wish you a happy and peaceful Christmas season.