Sunday, December 14, 2008

Feeling Empty For Christmas

There's a catchy song by the Chrsitian group Third Day about Christmas. Here's an excerpt of the lyrics:

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I want to feel Christmas, how it used to be
With all of its wonder falling on me
This season has felt so empty, oh for quite a while
I want to feel Christmas like a child

I want to see snowflakes fall to the ground
My brothers and sisters all gathered around
Singing "Away In A Manager" as we sit by the fire
I want to feel Christmas like a child

It's been so long now, I can't say
Just when I lost my way
But I'm going back to how it was
When this day meant everything
And we spent our time remembering
The baby Child born for us
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The singer feels empty about Christmas as an adult. This year, I've been thinking a lot about the way I feel kinda unenthusiastic around Christmas. Aren't I supposed to be merry, and excited?

Maybe it's all just about the retail holiday. I.e., all the decorations and such are just installed to remind us we're supposed to be spending a lot. And there's a deadline for the purchases.

But this theory doesn't completely capture it. Hayden, for example, gets excited about Christmas, and like decorating. She's not the only one. Certainly people don't listen to Christmas music for a month just to get in the gift-buying mood.

And what about the sacred part? Maybe the public lights and decorations are vestiges of celebrating the Sacred Christian holiday. But it's hard to reconcile the Christmas trees and gift-giving with Jesus's birth. And why would we start celebrating Jesus' birth so far in advance? Resurrection Sunday (Easter) only gets a couple of days of effort.

So why don't I feel excited by it? And why don't I feel like I should? Why do I feel somewhat empty about it? Why does it make some people feel so grumpy about it?

I now think Merry Christmas happens when I make it happen. My expectation to suddenly feel merry and joyful about the season is irrational; there is no overwhelming Christmas Magic that makes me feel merry without my consent.

The lights, decorations, Christmas cards, gifts, cheerful music, special foods, are all things we do to create cheer. We do it for each other, and I do it for myself.

If I choose not to decorate, or not to sing Christmas music, then I won't get the cheer they engender. Nothing is going to cheer me up without my participation.

So why do people feel especially empty this time of year? I think there are two reasons: the holiday excitement -- personal and commercial -- contrasts with ordinary life. It makes ordinary life seem boring, or sad.

But another reason specific to the Northern Hemisphere is really key: it's dark out. Days are short. It's cold. Of course we're going to feel sad, whether or not it's clinically Seasonal Affective Disorder.

All these lights, special music, gifts, and sweets are one way to combat the sadness of a dark time of year. If I choose to reject the festivities, I'm rejecting something that can help me.

Yes, having a decorated cut tree in my house is a little bizarre out of context, but it's also funny and cheerful.

"I want to feel Christmas like a child" because, as a child, everybody is working to make me feel cheerful around Christmas. Everybody else is putting up the lights, and buying me gifts.

What about the Sacred part? It seems historically Christmas was placed here to replace pagan holidays involving the rebirth of the sun after the winter solstice. But it seems like a good replacement to me. The story of Jesus' birth is quite compelling, and includes several dramatic twists. It's fun to celebrate a birthday.

The seasonal festival involving lights and decorations doesn't necessarily need to be redeemed by adding a celebration of Jesus' birth. But it's good to have a time of year to commemorate the momentus event -- God's Son's arrived.

I'm arguing for personal responsibility. I'm advocating making merry. I'm in favor of keeping the Messiah, the Christ, in Christmas.

Now, who's ready to help me setup our home-made lighted J-E-S-U-S letters in the front yard?

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