Posted by: smstrouse | December 11, 2010

It’s Christmas; I’m Supposed to Be Happy, But Instead I’ve Got the Blues

So I took the facebook quiz What Christmas Song Are You? and got The Christmas Blues: “Unlike most people, this is the saddest time of the year for you. Your (sic) all alone and all this merriment makes you feel like everyone is mocking your misery. At this time of year you mostly stay indoors, with only Scrooge to talk to. But before you decide to beat the Christmas rush and jump off a bridge, remember Dean Martin sings your song and isn’t he yummy.”

Well! I was never much of a Dino fan. I thought Dino, Desi & Billy were yummier (I just remembered that my brother gave me their album for Christmas in what, 1965?)  Anyway facebook didn’t get it right.  I’m not miserable. But that doesn’t mean Christmas isn’t laden with conflicting feelings and emotional challenges.

When I was a kid, Christmas was a very big deal. It was one of the very few times when my family felt like a ‘real’ family. My parents loved doing it up big. “What do you want for Christmas?” meant that they would try to fulfill our fondest wishes. Now my folks were not wealthy. But in the days before credit cards, my dad had a Christmas Club at the bank where he salted money away each week so that in December he and my mom could go on a wild shopping spree.  That meant Christmas morning was a blur of ripping paper and flying ribbon. In the afternoon, Mom would prepare the turkey dinner and Dad would work on the Lionel train layout. In the evening we’d pile in the car to go visit and exchange presents with all the cousins, gawking at all the lights and decorations along the way.

This was not typical behavior for our family. Money was scarce the rest of the year. We did not do things as a family, and my parents were fighting more often than not. So Christmas was like a suspension of reality, a wrinkle in time and space that ended all too quickly. It also ended with the onset of adulthood. My parents didn’t know quite what to do with older kids and young adults. They still tried to fulfill the annual wish list we provided. But for me the accumulation of stuff became unsatisfying. There was no religious aspect to our holiday either, and that also became problematic. And as I grew older, I became more aware of the dysfunction in my family that not even a pile of presents could cover up. Christmas had lost its magical glow.

Still, every time I see the commercials with the ‘perfect’ families and the ‘perfect’ presents, I’m tempted to get sucked back into the fantasy. I mourn the ‘good old days’ and think that I need to get busy and shop and decorate and bake and party and . . . And then I catch myself and return to Advent, lighting  the candles and sitting quietly in meditation. I know that my spiritual preparations are much more important than the outer trappings. But I also know that I must honor the past, with all it complicated memories and emotions.

I fully understand why many people feel blue at this time of year. Not only do we have to adjust to shorter hours of daylight, we also have to contend with either the fantasy of the perfect Christmas or the stress, expectations, financial obligations, family dynamics, etc. of the season.

I am also fully aware that there are people who just love this time of year and thrive on all of it. And that is great; no “Bah, humbug!” here.  But for those who are not so inclined, I hereby declare a safe zone for people who have the blues. To you I say “It’s OK!  There’s nothing wrong with you. You do not have to be happy.”

My hope for all of us, whether happy or blue, is that we will feel joy . Yes, joy.  As in the realization that when you strip away all the layers of expectations of the season, there is a flicker of light, a star, shining in the night, even in the dark night of the soul. Christmas is not about happiness. It’s about awareness of the ‘star in my heart,’ as Joyce Rupp calls it, which shines even when we have the blues. That to me is the greatest Christmas gift of all.

So OK facebook, maybe I do have The Christmas Blues. But I am not all alone with only Scrooge to talk to” and I’m not ready to jump off a bridge. In fact, I feel pretty joyful. In fact, I think I’m going to light the Advent candles and maybe see if I can find some old Dino, Desi & Billy on YouTube. Yummy!

Advent Blessings,
Pastor Susan

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