Merry Christmas. Have a good Christmas. Happy Holidays. Are you ready for Christmas? Santa Claus makes appearances at the mall, at the free movie for kids, sometimes even at church programs. Lights twinkle from lamp posts, trees, roof tops and in windows. Holly, evergreen boughs, mistletoe, red ribbons, and candy canes decorate our doors, banisters, mantles and dining tables. Nativity sets complete with three wise men, camels and shepherds are set up and treasured. ‘Tis the season for reruns of “White Christmas,” “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” “A Christmas Carol,” and a hundreds of other television programs touting “the real spirit of Christmas.”
Many of us have warm memories of a favorite Christmas. Mine is the memory of the year my Grandpa Christ spent Christmas with us. My sisters and I were each given a rubber doll, which, like us, each had a different color hair. They came complete with their own mini wardrobe carefully crafted by our Aunt Ida. We have a picture of the three of us, dressed alike in handmade matching Christmas dresses, holding our new dolls and sitting snuggled up to our grandfather. It was a special holiday because our grandpa wasn’t with us often. The dolls were precious and treasured for years. Mine, the one with thick black hair like my own at the time, totally disintegrated and, sadly, had to be discarded.
We all have traditions we hang on to. We prepare favorite foods, use our best dishes, hang treasured ornaments on our trees. We do everything we can to make Christmas special for our families.
In spite of all our efforts, sometimes, holidays are not merry. Sometimes, we get so busy with preparations and celebrations we exhaust ourselves. Often, we find ourselves feeling let down and disappointed the day after Christmas. Somehow all of our work, our shopping, our parties, and carol singing leaves us feeling empty.
For our friends and neighbors missing loved ones who have died, it is hard to be merry when their hearts are breaking. For families separated by military service, divorce, distance or alienation, loneliness becomes even more painful. Many of us have a hard time having a merry Christmas.
So much of what we associate with Christmas really has nothing to do with the story told in the Bible. Nowhere do the Gospels say how many wise men showed up or that they were even men or wise. Camels are not mentioned at all, nor are oxen, donkeys or drummer boys. There are no evergreen trees, holy, red ribbons, candy canes or gifts other than those brought by the magi. Jesus’s birthday was probably not celebrated at all until 200-400 years after his death. St. Nicholas gave gifts to help the poor and was originally celebrated on December 6. Our traditions can be good. They can encourage us to be generous, compassionate and caring. They can create good memories that stay with us a lifetime. These, however, are just the pretty paper on the outside of the gift of Christmas.
When we find our holiday traditions leave us feeling broken hearted, lonely and empty, it is time to see those trappings for what they are. They are human inventions. Shopping, baking, and gift wrapping cannot fill those empty spaces.
Listen to the angels. The angel told Mary, “Do not be afraid, for you have found favor.” Another told Joseph, “Don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife.” The choir of angels told the shepherds, “Do not be afraid, for we bring tidings of great joy.” Jesus’s name, Emmanuel, means “God with us.” God became human and understands what it means to be sad, lonely, and afraid. He knows what it is to have family and to still feel abandoned and alone. We don’t have to be afraid of letting ourselves mourn and to be sad, of being lonely and empty. Emmanuel, God is with us. God understands when we can’t pretend to be merry.
Fear not. May you find comfort and joy in the good news that is Christmas.
Copyright © 2014 Janet Jacobson and Sustaining the Northern Plains