The holiday season is here and in full swing by this point. Last week I set up my tree and decorated it. I bought stuff to make Christmas cookies this weekend, and I started wrapping (too many) presents yesterday. And the presents put me over the edge. I finally realized that Christmas is really here and the mixed emotions I always experience came to the surface. We do so much for this holiday, but I always ask myself why. Why do we put so much effort into this one arbitrary day? Why do we invest so much time, effort, and energy into making this holiday so big? Would we really miss it if we had never experienced it? If there was no gift giving, tree decorating, caroling, or cooking, would we even care?
Is it because of the “magic” surrounding out childhood Christmas experiences? Is is the excitement of (too many) presents and movies and sweet treats? Do we want to recreate the belief that this day is special?
I know that for many of us it is the opportunity to be with family. For some of us it is the selected day to celebrate the birth of Jesus. But we don’t need Christmas to celebrate either of those things. We could do them without presents and trees and cookies and hot chocolate and carols. I prefer Thanksgiving for celebrating family, and I figure that if we celebrate Jesus we ought to do it more regularly than on his culturally assigned birthday. But we do it all in this season. And we overload it all with all these unnecessary trimmings.
All the stuff, and the obligation to do all the stuff leaves me feeling empty. On December 26 it is all just a mess to be cleaned up.
I secretly don’t trust people who seriously love Christmas because I don’t understand it. I don’t want to sing carols or dress in red and green. I don’t want to watch Christmas movies or drink hot chocolate. I just want to love my kid like I do every day and enjoy the time off work to spend extra time with my family. But I do it all. Because I feel like I’m spoiling something otherwise.
And depression makes it tougher. Depression tells me that there is magic to be felt, but I’m just not good enough to feel it. Depression tells me that my inability to get jazzed about “White Christmas” or “Jingle Bells” means that there is something wrong with me. It tells me that my inability to experience joy by giving (too many) presents means that I don’t care enough about the people I am giving them to. Depression tells me that the emptiness I feel is a flaw.
The holidays are stressful. We have high expectations but cannot control the outcomes. We cannot guarantee that we will have enough money or time to do it all. We cannot guarantee that friends and family will react how we imagine. We cannot guarantee that this will fix anything. We just put in effort and hope for the best. Sometimes the pressure becomes too much and we snap. Or sometimes we cannot escape the memories of people we have loved that are gone. Sometimes we force ourselves to play nice for someone else’s sake and we grow bitter. Sometimes we are just alone. It isn’t all bright lights and candy canes. But we keep pretending that it is.
And that is what I dislike so much. The pretending. We pretend that it is wonderful when for so many of us it just highlights our inability to feel happy or joyful. And we feel even more pressure than normal to pretend. If we don’t love the trappings of the season then we must not love family or Jesus enough. If we don’t think this is the most wonderful time of year then we are scrooges. And if we don’t have big Christmases with friends or families then we are failures.
But Christmas is just a day that we have built up into a season. Christmas is just some peoples’ escape from the rest of the year. Christmas is just a day. And it will come, last 24 hours, and then pass away. Just like every other day.
I may be a scrooge. I may be bursting the holiday bubble, but I am terrible at pretending. But I know that I am not the only one. I know that Christmas is hard for many of you. I know that many of you feel pain at the loss of loved ones or the inability to go as big as your friends and neighbors. I know that I am not alone in wondering why we do this to ourselves.
If you are hurting this Christmas season, know that you too are not alone. And the day will come and it will go. Whether you have a tree or presents or church services or big dinners, the day will come and go and life will go on as it did before. You are not a failure if this season is not picture perfect. You are not a scrooge if you don’t have a tree and presents. And you are not any less wonderful if you cannot wait for the season to end. You are beautiful and important everyday and no holiday can change that. No amount of celebrating on this particular day will make you more loved or special in the eyes of God. Be strong. Stay afloat. Keep pushing forward. This day will come and go. Just like every day before and after. And if you struggle more than usual on Christmas, know that you are not alone. You are valuable. You are worthy. Don’t let the season beat you. Sending you all love and strength whether you love Christmas or loathe it.