OK, so maybe for a lot of people it is, and for me it probably was. But when your life gets turned upside down and you spend most of your time and energy from then on just trying to tread water so you don’t drown, the Christmas season is not necessarily a spirit lifter. It becomes one more reminder of how your life sucks so much that even though Bing thinks it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, you can’t feel merry and bright, your heart is anything but light, all is not calm and the halls are definitely not what you feel like “decking”.
Eventually, I will post our story, but for now suffice it to say that I have very good reason to not be enjoying the music, decorations, and general giddiness that surrounds me in the midst of a broken heart. Christmas will come and go and in most ways will be just another day for me. At this point I’m not necessarily waiting for Jesus to be “born”; I’d be satisfied if He would just fix this mess and I don’t care which day of the year He chooses.
I have happy Christmas memories from childhood and from many years of marriage and children of my own. Sadly now, those happy memories just make this time of year even harder. Last year, our family Christmas was celebrated in a hospital among people who suffered as much as we did, some even more. And it was celebrated without my dad, who passed away shortly before. It is a Christmas I would rather forget, and often do, because I find myself referring to “last year” and meaning 2012. But that’s part of that other story, the one where my brain ends up injured too.
However, this post isn’t just about me; it’s about recognizing that, for many people, this time of year brings sadness and unhappy memories. In fact, I’ve heard a few people actually tell me that they wish the whole season would just go by without any kind of fanfare or that they could just skip it altogether. I never understood that until this point in my own life.
Charlie Brown was depressed because he just couldn’t feel happy about Christmas. He didn’t “get it”. His friends watched him and wondered what his problem was, thinking it was just another one of his personality issues because he thought too much. Linus tried to help him out by explaining the “real meaning” of Christmas, but I can tell you that for a depressed melancholic character, that whole “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field…” thing doesn’t cut it, even if it’s told by a cute little guy carrying a blanket.
Chuck picked out the loneliest looking little tree because he had hope for it and it represented a simpler celebration than all the commercial ideas were promoting. He got a few minutes of joy from hanging a lovely ball on a branch and for a moment it looked like Christmas would be OK. And then BAM! it dropped to the ground, along with his heart and once again he felt the pain we melancholics often feel of knowing all along that hoping for something doesn’t make it so, and many times over, carrots are dangled and pulled away just as quickly. Hopes are crushed.
Yes, it is supposed to be about Jesus being born into the world. We tell this to our kids and hope it will keep them from getting too attached to the presents. We put up the nativity scene in the middle of all the other decorations as a reminder and hope this will keep the focus on what Christmas actually means. But how many of us really know the difference? I thought I did. I thought I knew a lot of things that I don’t know.
I know it isn’t about spending everything you have on a bunch of stuff you don’t need so you can pat yourself on the back because you gave the best gifts and then enjoy the bills for months to come. My kids tease me because we realized that my Christmas budget is pretty much the same now as it was when they were little over twenty years ago. I don’t do inflation. And I don’t do $20 stocking stuffers either.
I know it isn’t about the food and stuffing a year’s worth of special treats and goodies into one celebration. Been there, done that, got sick. And fat. Now once the baking starts it’s fair game unless it has already made it to the freezer. Why not enjoy the treats throughout the season instead of doing all that work and hoarding them for “Christmas” which in our house meant two days. By the way, there are certain treats that are completely tasty right out of the freezer.
I know it isn’t about getting gifts because as much fun as it is, I can hardly ever remember what I got and I know my kids have the same problem, even though I spent many hours over the years planning and preparing and wrapping and surprising.
I know it isn’t about traditions because I’ve finally realized that I don’t have to drink egg nog just because we are decorating the tree. I don’t even like eggnog. Yet since I was a child it was part of the tree decorating in our home, which I passed onto my kids, and now I find out one of them doesn’t like it either. So beer it is, or maybe wine, but I can never remember which one you’re supposed to drink first? And I can live without shortbread too. I don’t love it anymore either and my kids never really liked it so I ended up eating it all myself, which is probably why I’m sick of it. I’m going to eat what I like and drink what I like and if it changes every year, that’s fine with me.
That doesn’t leave me with much. I’m not going to talk about how it’s all about being nice to others and getting together with friends and family because we all know that’s true, but we can do that other times too, and we do. That part of “Christmas” happens for me when I’m desperate for help, can’t leave the hospital, and know that my friend is on the other end of a text and will bring me food. And hug me while I cry. And for a few minutes my world isn’t black.
I’m not knocking Christmas, or telling anyone else what it should be for them. And I’m not going to tell the people who don’t like it that if they just knew what it really meant they would be happier. I’m just saying that some people don’t know, some people don’t care, and some people are in so much pain that they’d rather curl up in a big chair and wake up when it’s over. And at a time of year when we are trying to spread good cheer, we need to remember that. Some people just need understanding more than jingle bells.
In the end, all of Charlie Brown’s friends fixed up his tree and gathered around him to sing and it looked like a happy ending. For lots of people it will be. But we all know that wasn’t the end of his story …