Posted by: smstrouse | December 1, 2012

From Black Friday to the Christmas Blues

Well, the pundits are still evaluating Black Friday and Cyber Monday and making predictions about the success of the holiday shopping season. Meanwhile, the signs of Christmas are everywhere: decorations downtown, the glut of catalogs in mailboxes, even Christmas Eve worship planning at church. Having now lived through BF and CM, you’d think that our entire lives were focused only on The Big Day. But, as far as I’m concerned, we’ve jumped from Black Friday right into the Christmas blues.

Those who know me know that fall and winter are not my favorite times of the year. Even moving from Buffalo, NY to the San Francisco Bay area hasn’t cured me of a bit of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). And holidays have always been a challenge for a variety of reasons. One thing I do know is that I’m not alone. There are many, many people who suffer during this supposedly holly-jolly time. Unfortunately many suffer in silence because they don’t want to be accused of being a Scrooge or told to get into the holiday spirit. So we have the Christmas blues. Our theme song might be ‘River,’ from the old Joni Mitchell album, appropriately entitled ‘Blue’:  It’s coming on Christmas/ They’re cutting down trees / They’re putting up reindeer / And singing songs of joy and peace / Oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on.  

Now this has nothing to do with Jesus’ birthday. Reminding me that ‘Jesus is the Reason for the Season’ won’t cure the Christmastime blues. The cultural and familial memories and expectations are too deeply embedded to be banished by rational thinking. And I love our Christmas Eve service and then observing the Twelve Days. So this is not an anti-religion thing. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. I’ve found that the best antidote to the Christmas blues is full immersion in the season of Advent. And because it is such an antidote, I’ve forsworn the more traditional purple of the season in favor of – what else? – blue!

I became aware of the blue option when the Lutheran Book of Worship came out some years ago. The explanation was that the while purple symbolized repentance (and Advent began as a penitential season just like Lent), blue represented hopefulness. Now nothing against Lent, but hopefulness at this time of year works a whole lot better for me.  And I do believe that people need to hear a message of hope as much, if not more, than a message of repentance.  I know, I know, those are not mutually exclusive. But at this time of year, I think the hopefulness option is the way to go.

There is hope in between Black Friday and the Christmas blues. It is a deeply spiritual, countercultural time in which one can still indulge in all the holly-jolliness – or not. And this isn’t a strictly rational talking one’s self into the holiday spirit either. Rather it’s a full immersion experience of mystery and wonder. So in keeping with that spirit, I’m more inclined to be singing something like the John Ylvisaker song, ‘Drawn to the Light of God’:

People who walk in darkness have sought a light in the heart of the darkest night. 
Just when we thought all would be lost, we were drawn to the light of God. 
Dawn is in sight! Gone is the night! Drawn to the light and the morning. 
Glorious and bright, O what a sight to be drawn to the light of God. 

Blessed Advent!


  1. I have been stumbling toward Christmas this year. It all started when I listened to Sheehan’s Historical Jesus lectures and read his “First Coming” book. I am still attending the local United Methodist Church and am very involved, but I feel like a hypocrite. I know too much. When we were greening the church on Saturday, I kept thinking things like “mangers, sheep and wise men….nice story.”

    So, the trouble now is that my faith has to be redefined. Which parts do I still believe? In which parts do I still intend to participate? I have children and must decide which parts to emphasize to them. So far, I’m opting for stability and tradition over enlightenment.

    Your message of hope is needed and appreciated. I find hope in visions of a world lived the way Jesus is described as living. I believe that loving your neighbor, humbling yourself and caring for those around you is a worthy goal. I recognize and regret my self-centeredness. I am uplifted when I sing “Joy to the World”.

    But, it’s hard to drag the kids to Sunday School and church every Sunday when they are bored, think it’s a waste of time and I can’t find a better option. How can I offer them something better? Northeast Pennsylvania is anything but progressive.

    Have a Holly Jolly Christmas! 🙂


    • Cathy,
      I hear you. For years I refused to have a Nativity scene in my home, but just last year I bought a brand new one. I’ve made peace with the myth.
      Having said that, you raise important questions.

      How to find a like-minded community? It may or may not be possible to find one in your area (I’m originally from SE PA and traveled often the turnpike through the Poconos). Don’t make assumptions, though. I’d bet there are others just like you; I found that to be true in Buffalo. A few discreet inquiries might smoke them out. One way we did it in Buffalo was to do a book study of Borg’s “Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time.”

      Do you know about They have a listing of progressive congregations around the country, as well as good articles, books, etc – including a children’s curriculum, which might help talk with your kids about this stuff. Marcus Borg (I think) once said, “Don’t teach your kids anything they’ll later have to unlearn.” This is a huge challenge for the church today.

      If you haven’t read Borg and Crossan’s “First Christmas” I highly recommend it, along with everything else they’ve written. John Shelby Spong’s weekly e-mail is also a good resource.

      I guess mainly my advice is find a few like-minded people, even if it’s online. Who knows, we may eventually transform even NE PA?!


  2. Thank you so much. Spong, Borg and Crosson are on my reading list. N.T. Wright, too. And, I’m thinking the kids, husband and I need to go on a few “field trips” to other churches. Merry Chrustmas!


  3. Helpful post and great sharing. A couple of things in here I havent thought about before, I would like to take this moment to say that I really like your blog. It has been a fantastic resource of information for me. Thank you so much!


  4. […] (originally posted on December 1, 2012) […]


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