Merry Christmas (Our Calendar Is Emotionally Unfair)

It occurred to me recently in my waking thoughts that our calendar is emotionally unfair. 

Summer ends, then the leaves change and the very redness of the leaves says something to me. I don’t know what. Maybe that everything has to die and that it will change continually until it does. 

Then there’s this turbulent sequence: 

  1. Daylight Savings begins. – This accentuates the shortening daylight. 
  2. Thanksgiving. – We’ve basically turned this into Christmas Light, or Christmas Pre-Game. 
  3. The Christmas season. – Loud, sometimes charming, mostly grating. Commercialism blares over all else. 
  4. Winter solstice. – The first day of winter is usually 3-4 days before Christmas. I always thought winter was half over at Christmas when I was a kid, but it’s really just starting.
  5. Christmas Eve. – The defining moment of all Christmas stories we’ve heard from birth. Emotions gather like a laser beam. The air is pregnant with expectation.
  6. Christmas Day. – The birth of those building emotions, and often heavy disappointment. Sad when it’s too long, or too short, or too chaotic, or too dull. Sometimes the family isn’t sweet. Sometimes the food is too sweet. Suddenly it’s 10:00 PM.
  7. The strange week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. – It feels like no one is working and no one knows what to do. 
  8. New Year’s Eve. – Even when I try to avoid it, at some point the thought creeps in: Oh shoot, my life is slipping away and I’m doing nothing with it.
  9. New Year’s Day. – Is this a holiday? What time is it? Why does the sun look weird? Should I be doing something productive and symbolic?
  10. Winter. – The grand finale where literally nothing happens. The dismal blue winter stretches out before you like the south pole and you spend your time hoping you don’t get the flu and now COVID. 

On top of all this, there’s a pressure from somewhere to make the holidays feel like they used to—for Christmas to be magical but not commercial, intimate but not too vulnerable, full of everything you want but not about things, not downplayed but not over-hyped.

There’s so much anticipation: emotional, relational, material, spiritual, religious. Then January 2 there’s just silence and cold and the sad realization that your body is lumpier than it was in November.

I don’t know. This cycle gets old. Can’t some holidays be stretched out to last through the winter and early spring? Because let’s face it, Valentine’s Day and St. Patricks Day are throwaways.

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Last year I wrote with optimism about finding the Christmas spirit when you don’t feel it. I thought of reposting it, but I think it will need to wait a year. This year is unforgettable, and for a lot of reasons that feel bad. So much loss and change.

My wish for you is that you would find the joy and peace your heart craves. The only hint I know how to give is that this usually comes through simple and unassuming things. It’s not often the grandiose or eventful that makes our hearts sing. It’s when the company has gone and the day is over and your expectations are all used up and you lay down and see Forrest Gump on TV by accident. It’s not even a Christmas movie, but for some reason, as 2020 begins to close, you feel a glowing ember under the ashes of your heart, a comfort that all is okay here, a wonder at being alive.

It’s when you turn the lamp off by the nativity scene and feel the smallest wind of hope that it’s all still true. That the maker of the stars visited us in humility and somehow, in a way you could never explain, he will fix everything.

Merry Christmas.

The Dream of Home

The longing for home is expressed in the mournful song “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” You don’t know it’s sad until the end of the chorus, and of course I missed this when I was a child, thinking it was only a happy song about having snow and mistletoe and presents by the tree. I didn’t catch this was all a dream.

Where is home? What is it? It’s possible to be home and feel homesick. What then?

Life seems to be a trajectory of gain. Every year that passes you step further away from the dependence and simplicity of childhood when people told you what to do and where to be and how to dress, and you gain independence, freedom, new experiences, and the ability to choose. You choose your friends, events, playlists, and themes. You choose your movies, festivities, holidays games, or no games at all. You gain more than you could have imagined.

Yet in all the gain, there’s a loss—the loss of joy without inhibition.

It takes work to beat back that inhibition and find a way to revere what has been lost while relishing what is still good. It’s understandable to not feel up to that task in 2020.

Some Christmases aren’t going to feel like Christmas. It’s not just Charlie Brown who feels that way. Other Christmases, some sort of magic is going to break in and make the wall between heaven and earth seem thin, like the reality of God is closer than you imagined. Sometimes it will feel like home.

I don’t know where home is for you or how you can get back to it, but will you join me in not letting the dream die? It’s too deep, too human, to not be real somehow.

May you find the home your heart craves this holiday season.