It’s coming on Christmas
They’re cutting down trees
They’re putting up reindeer
And singing songs of joy and peace
Oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on.
River, Joni Mitchell
Not everyone looks forward to Christmas, for years I was one of them. It was more comfortable to ignore it, pass on all the festivities, and my life has been a cake walk compared to many. In some parts of the world, happy Christmas celebrations are nothing more than a distant dream and have been for entire lives.
We do not have to look to other countries to witness Christmas angst though. It is right here in front of us, but we are too self-concerned or self-congratulatory to awaken to it.
For me, it was not the reason for the celebration that made me shrink away; I treasured the divinity in the celebration, the birth of Jesus. It was the holiday gatherings I dreaded. Sadness does not take a powder because it is Christmas; it is magnified, and the stress of wanting to make the holiday perfect for everyone becomes bone numbing. Already fledgling financial resources can become more unstable with hearts wanting so badly to gift those they love. Lack is fatiguing; souls can grieve for what they have never had as well as for loss.
All one has to do is look to the other side of the bed, the empty side, to feel the deep pang of loss for a spouse or lover who has passed, or a dream that never materialized.
Even those who typically have wonderful Christmas seasons have known the harsh truth of laughter you can hear but do not feel part of, tasteless food, and forced smiles. For some, this scene is repeated year after year.
Christmas is a reminder of what was lost in the fire, of being alone, of physical fatigue caused by ever-present illness, what is missing, who will be absent this year, that life is sadly different now, or that time is running out.
Let’s suspend judgment of those who view the holidays differently, who opt out, or don’t seem to engage. It is not their responsibility to perform for us.
We can love those struggling, pray for them, their families, their physicians, and other caregivers. Given an opportunity to tell their story, to be heard, they do feel lighter. We can make time to be that listener.
If Christmas is uncomfortable due to harsh feelings, we can go to the person we have wronged and gift them with a sincere, mature, apology. Someone once said to me, “I can’t apologize enough.” I wanted to say, “Well try!” He was correct, he could not and did not. A mature apology is looking the person in the eyes, taking their hand and telling them you know you hurt them, you are sorry, and hope they can forgive you.
If you have a parent still living this Christmas, do whatever they want to do, and let them know how crazy you are about them. Even eat the shitty fruitcake.
Tell your siblings how dear they are to you, how very much you love and treasure them, even though your brother and his buddy Jerry Stow stuck their big toes in your coke while you were out of the room when they were kids.
Parents, listen to your children, kids or adults, really listen. They need to know you love them and respect them.
Bring the pets in from the bitter cold; if you cannot do this simple thing you do not deserve to have them, give them to someone who gets it.
As we are able, let’s help those who clearly need help; they are everywhere. Maybe next door.
If you are an employer, give your staff enough time off to breathe in Christmas. It is the right thing to do.
Think. We are callous to congratulate ourselves for what we have in the presence of those who are lacking, whether it is gifts we have received, financial success, years of wedded bliss, or a fantastic job. Remember everyone is really doing the best they can.
If it is you feeling the pain this year, give thanks.
Years ago, about the time I was diagnosed with Lupus, I sustained a serious back injury and could not work for months; eventually, I had to resign from my job. I was in terrible pain each day and depressed.
My spiritual director, Pat, suggested that I focus on gratefulness. I thought she had taken leave of her senses. But, Pat was right, I started a gratitude journal, listing several things each day I was grateful for. That was twenty-five years ago.
I can’t wait for Christmas.
“Eucharisteo—thanksgiving—always precedes the miracle.”
One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are– Ann Voskamp