At breakfast one day, my two-and-a-half-year-old great-niece Reagan ate bite-sized pieces of egg.
Each time she picked up a bite, she held it for me to see and she asked, “What’s that?”
“Egg,” I answered.
She popped the bite of egg in her mouth and picked up another bite.
She held the new bite for me to see. “What’s that?” she asked.
She popped it in her mouth, picked up another bite, dipped it in ketchup and held it for me to see, “What’s that?”
“Egg dipped in ketchup.”
She swallowed that bite, picked up another, held it up, “What’s that?”
I was bored with saying egg, so I said, “Chip.”
She grinned and quickly disagreed, “No! It’s egg.”
She knows what it is, so why does she ask again and again, I wondered out loud. Her mom explained that she’d read that children ask questions because they are learning to determine what stays the same and what changes.
That explanation seemed to ring true. Later that morning, Reagan noticed her baby sister’s toys had been moved from the living room floor to the kitchen floor. “Why are baby’s toys in kitchen?” she asked.
She wanted a reason for a circumstance that was different than usual.
The interactions prompted me to think about how many of my thoughts are designated to comparing and contrasting. This is the same. This is different. This is the same and I like it. This is different and I like it better. This is different and I’m not happy about it.
The way sames and differents occupy our thoughts and provide reference points fascinates me .
I find that I attach value and emotion to many sames and differents.
I want all my mornings to start the same: a cup of strong coffee with cream and an hour of quiet while I putter in my pajamas. That type of start evokes contentment for me.
I think my job is interesting because includes so many different tasks. Reading. Walking on campus between classes. Meeting and working with a hundred new students, many from different countries, each semester.
To me, some sames become strong preferences. I suppose a morning could start with weak tea, chatter and immediate exercise. But I don’t want it to be mine.
If someone enjoys the same sense of humor as I, their potential as a friend grows in my opinion.
Some differents seem to matter more than they should. Recently, I was annoyed with my husband because he didn’t get me the exact variety of crackers that I like. “I don’t see the difference,” he said.
Or course, I rolled my eyes and resolved to buy my own crackers.
Occasionally, I’ve concluded that because someone doesn’t read the same books, or like the same activities, or look the same as me, I should keep my distance.
Think about how sames operate in fashion choices. When I observe college students on campus, I note that they all dress within very narrow fashion confines: yoga pants, sweat pants or jeans. Sloppy top for girls. T-shirt or sweat shirt for guys. If someone shows up in something different, it’s notable. We feel like we fit in if we wear similar clothes, but if we show up in the exact same outfit as someone else?
As I think about celebrating Christmas next week, I think about all the sames that make up our annual traditions. Tradition means that certain types of food be the same from year to year to year. Our family needs homemade Chex mix, mom’s Finnish coffee bread, deviled ham potato chip dip and chocolate chip cookies.
We want certain activities to be the same each year. The activities I yearn for are church on Christmas Eve with family, a few presents under our Christmas tree (from and for me), a delicious Christmas Day dinner with family, a few games, and lots of laughter.
Of course, the celebration must include some Christmas songs. O Holy Night is my favorite. A few decorations. Good wishes from and to friends.
What are the sames that make up your celebrations?
Christmas celebrations change over the years. I regret some of the changes. When we lived in Kenora, Ontario, we ate pork pie every Christmas Eve. A baker delivered the pork pie to the door. I wish I could have one of those pies delivered this year.
When we were children, my sister and I spent the mornings leading up to Christmas paging through the Sears catalogue. We loved browsing the available toys. I used to snoop through mom’s closets to see if she’d purchased any of them.
I remember shopping with my Dad on Christmas Eve afternoon for Mom’s gift. One of these years, I’ll have to pick him up so we can do that again.
When I was growing up, we always, always, always enjoyed a white Christmas and it looks like Central Pennsylvania might be snowy this Christmas. But I won’t be here. We are headed to Haiti to spend Christmas with our daughter and her husband in their new apartment.
We won’t have snow.
I’m having to really identify the celebration’s essential sames. My suitcase won’t hold all the things we associate with a traditional celebration.
Pairing down is a great exercise. As I pick and choose from the items I’ve gathered, I considered the possible sames and wondered: is my celebration too narrow because I indulge in these sames year after year? Or is it focused?
I can’t wait to observe the differences in the Haitian celebration of Christmas.
And when I think about Jesus whose birthday we celebrate, I remember that He visited earth and interrupted the sames so that—how does that carol word it?—”our souls could feel their worth” and our lives could be extravagantly different when it comes to celebrating love and joy and peace.
This Christmas I wish you enough of the same old, same old to cement your celebration as a family tradition and lots of joy as you respond to Jesus Christ’s invitation to love that changes your life.