Warning: in this blog post, I will be a grinch!
No, I’m not going to pull the glitter out of your beard or take the candy cane out of your latte, but I will acknowledge that Christmas is an emotionally complicated time of year.
For some of us, Christmas is a glittery, shimmering, deeply meaningful time. Others of us would prefer to pull the blankets over our heads and emerge only when the boxing day sales are over.
And let me add that Christmas has always been emotionally complicated. This is not a new phenomenon. An unplanned pregnancy, a blended family, a late night birth far from home, a refugee journey. I don’t really understand how we’ve managed to sanitize all of this into a season that is supposed to be filled with endless bliss. So if anyone accuses you of being a grinch this season, you can feel justified in telling them that you are just getting in touch with the original meaning of the season.
If you are not brimming with Christmas cheer every minute of this December, know that you are not alone.
Because families are complicated
Maybe it’s all the pressure to make Christmas the most perfect day of the year, or maybe it’s just the stress of cramming lots of people into a small space, but even families that are loving, tight knit and high functioning at other times of year can become seriously challenging to be around at Christmas. For others of us, the thought of having a family that could ever be described as loving, tight knit and high functioning is the stuff of fantasy. At Christmas, all the anger and awkwardness that bubbles just below the surface at other times of year can sometimes boil over.
Because death happens
In my life, and in the lives of those close to me, a number of loved ones have died in the days right around Christmas. The tree, the carols, the cookies, all remind me of those painful times. At Christmas gatherings, I’m acutely aware of those who are no longer with us. This means that as Christmas draws close, so does a new surge of grief. At the same time, I’m reminded of beautiful memories that were created at Christmas with these folks who have now died. I see my cousins wrestling on the floor of our Grandma’s house, and I smile as I remember my cousin Matt, who was always right in the middle of these playful wrestling matches.
Because loneliness is real
If you spend any time on Instagram or Facebook during the month of December, you might start to think that everyone but you is surrounded by family and friends at every moment of the day and night. When it comes down to it, no one’s life is really like that, we are only seeing carefully selected highlights. Of course, some of us really are lonelier than others, and loneliness isn’t limited to Christmas. If you don’t have people who care about you to spend time with over Christmas, however, you may find it extra difficult at this time of year when we are inundated with images of happy families, friends and couples.
Because money is tight
Gift giving, whether gifts we wrap and give to to family and friends, or donations to awesome organizations that make the world a more beautiful place, can be part of what makes Christmas meaningful. But if you’re living on a low income for any reason, the expectation that gifts will be exchanged can feel stressful at best and downright crappy at worst.
Because faith changes
Maybe Christmas was a deeply religious time for you growing up, filled with candlelit Christmas eve services and carols, but now your faith is in a transition and you don’t quite know where you fit. You aren’t ready to drop all connection to Christmas as a religious holiday, but you don’t know which traditions fit for you anymore. Alternatively, maybe you are still passionate about lighting advent candles and reading Isaiah, but your family has walked away from their faith, leaving you to do these traditions alone.
All of these things (and you can probably name a few more!) can lead to a case of the Christmas blues. And I know, I know, Christmas isn’t really about all this stuff, it’s about the birth of Jesus who came to liberate the world. But if we are honest, lots of us feel sad at Christmas. I don’t have any easy answers about how to chase the Christmas blues away, but I have found that just acknowledging that things are complicated and giving myself permission not to feel fabulous throughout the entire month of December can be a huge relief. Also, I listen to the album “Vigil Keeping” by local artists Saffie on repeat. It’s melancholy and hopeful all at once and while it’s definitely a Christmas album it isn’t too Christmasy if you know what I mean.
Oh, one more thing, and this is important: if you find yourself feeling blue this Christmas, find someone to talk to about it! This could be a professional like a pastor or a counsellor, or maybe it’s your little brother who really gets why family gatherings are so stressful.