It’s no wonder so many people have a difficult time surviving the holidays in the best of circumstances. There is so much pressure to decorate, bake the goodies, buy the presents, wrap them, attend all the gatherings, hear and sing the carols, dress in the festive spirit, plan the meals, make the travel arrangements, and on and on and on. We are blasted with sappy Christmas movies, advertisements from every direction, urged to give on credit, and an obligatory feeling of having to buy something for EVERYONE we know. It’s CRAZY. Please, just STOP.
We get Christmas magic crammed down our throats from every direction and usually it’s got a retail price tag attached. We’ve spun ourselves into this holiday frenzy, and when we step back and look at the stress we’ve worked up for ourselves, it’s really quite ridiculous–especially when it robs of us of being present to those around us.
I’m not implying there should be absence of exuberant joy in the season. I celebrate CHRISTmas. There is joy in giving to those we love, especially if there are young children in the household. There is a beauty in the lights and ornaments and the smell of a Christmas tree. There is peace in celebrating the birth of the greatest gift in our faith. It’s all done in hopes we’ll create the ultimate Hallmark Christmas magic and making precious memories.
The holiday gets more and more commercial every single year. Christmas trees and all the trimmings are on the shelves before Halloween candy goes on sale. Black Friday starts Thanksgiving morning and nutty people camp out in store parking lots waiting for the doors to open. Kids beyond the Santa Claus stage greedily make out their holiday lists with expensive gifts they expect on Christmas morning. It’s a season filled with beliefs and behaviors which contradict one another and crack the foundation of the reason for the season.
I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with the excitement of holiday preparation and someone going all out for the celebration. Everything is right in being generous and spreading love and goodwill. To me, it’s similar to the overly cheerful morning person who is raring to go before the first cup of coffee–go for it and enjoy every single second. You do you, Boo, ’cause the world definitely needs the exuberance.
Me, though? I needed to step off the hamster wheel. My gift-giving purchasing has been downsized considerably. When the budget limit hits–that’s it–there’s no going into debt to buy unneeded or frivolous presents. We live in an instant gratitude society where people get what they want when they want it–do we really need an extra sweater or pajama set at Christmas? How many ornaments can we collect? How often do those new appliances or kitschy gadgets sit unused for months at a time? I find it so much more rewarding to donate to causes we cherish or anonymously give to someone in need. My parents raised me knowing the true gift was time together and staying in touch with loved ones throughout the year.
I love the meaning of Christmas and the warm and fuzzy feelings it is supposed to bring, but it has always been tinged with sadness. It started when I was eight–the year we lost both my beloved grandfather and my 17-year-old uncle. Over the years, the sadness magnified as we lost siblings. As the empty chairs around the table multiplied, the Christmas magic quickly dwindled. As a grown woman, I experienced great joy in watching my daughter on Christmas mornings, and loved being part of her children’s pageants, concerts, and holiday parties–but I still couldn’t shake the underlying sadness.
It’s the time of year when loneliness is magnified, losses are felt more keenly, and distance causes homesickness. I’m not alone in the feeling. For a quick dose of reality–the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future don’t visit like they do in the movies and Santa Claus doesn’t grant every wish.
It’s perplexing the way Christmas peace, love, and joy all get packed away with the ornaments once the holiday is over. We seek seasonal volunteer opportunities and donate to helpful charities during this time of year because our hearts are drawn into the ‘joy’ of the season. Those services and monies are needed the entire year, though–not just in December. As soon as January hits, the majority of us are back to our usual routines.
As we traverse through this crazy season and enjoy the things which make the holiday special, it’s important to remember those who have lost loved ones and are struggling to make it one minute at a time. There are people without happy memories and ‘family gathering’ is an abstract concept they’ve never experienced. There are loved ones reluctant to reach out to family because of past rifts and disagreements. There are families who know Santa is only wishful thinking because there are no presents under the imaginary tree in their nonexistent home on Christmas morning. There are folks simply forgotten and alone. It’s my mission to get out of my own head to see the pain in others and offer a hug, a phone call, time, resources, and a kind and meaningful gesture. Not just now, but throughout the entire year.
I want to wish everyone reading this a Merry Christmas, whether you are bursting with holiday spirit or just wishing it would quickly pass. It’s the time to cherish all the loved ones still occupying the chairs around the holiday table. For those who are celebrating the season with a loss, my thoughts and prayers are with you–I’ve been there, and the despair can be overwhelming.
Sometimes, it’s a victory just to survive.
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