I need to say this again: the holidays are fun for many of us, but not for everyone. I have a friend who is counting the days until these holidays are through. I think about the things I count down to survive–days until Annalise’s shoulder surgery, Kim’s last week until Christmas break, the well-meaning condolences I have to endure when all I want to do is escape and be alone with my grief–and then I try to square up how I feel about the holidays with such a wretched state of mind. I hate this for her.
I’m not one who counts down the months until Christmas, but I do love this season, and it’s the saving grace of winter as far as I’m concerned. I didn’t miss winter ever in seven years in Nicaragua except for Christmas time. Christmas has been a joy for me for a very long time now (because I’m old now). But I lived through a chapter in life when these holidays only drove home how miserable I felt and everyone else’s joy–and their expectation, spoken or unspoken, that I would share it–drove that misery home.
So let’s talk about surviving the holidays.
First, I want to ackowledge it. See how I’m writing this blog post?
I’m still enough of a child, at heart or, you know, emotionally, that I think life should be fair. I grasp intellectually that it isn’t, but I’ve neither accepted nor resigned myself to that. I don’t work as hard as I should to make life more fair for everyone, but I rail against the unfairness all the time.
Therefore, I want to say this directly: it sucks that some of you reading this aren’t loving the holidays. It sucks that you’re reduced to surviving through Christmas and New Year’s. I hate that for you. I wish I could change it. I hope you know that things should be better–because whether or not your choices played some part in your difficult situation, Advent and Christmas are times for grace, if ever there were such times. I know my saying it doesn’t fix anything, but I wanted you to know.
Second, I do believe there is joy to be found, even in the hardest circumstances. I’m not one to pretend things are peachy when they most assuredly are not. When things are shit, it doesn’t make them better to call them roses. Or even dandelions. But when I’m able to acknowledge that my situation is bad–especially when others will validate this reality–I almost always can find a glimmer of joy, a little spark of laughter, or a moment of trasnscendent beauty. I’m not saying, “Just cheer up.” I’m saying “Yes, this sucks, and it sucks bad; I pray you can experience joy nonetheless.” I pray something catches your eye and makes you smile every day, even in the midst of what you’re going through.
Finally, comparing makes it worse, so don’t. I know there are a ton of people having happier holidays than you are (or appearing to, at least on their Christmas cards and Instagram). I am fully aware that having everyone else’s domestic bliss thrust in your face only drives home that things aren’t how they should be for you. I swear, I get that. I got to hear about sparkly, hearth-warmed Christmases when my dad fell into a rage for Christmas morning, and I got to see Christmas cards of happy parents of newborns on the Christmas after our baby died. One of the rudest truths I know is that pointing out how unfair things are, whether to God or to ourselves, does not instantly make them more fair.
Thus, it’s easy, and very tempting, to say “I’m not comparing myself, this is just all around me so I’m forced to see it.” But that’s only true to a degree. Instagram is not compulsory, at least not yet. Nor is Facebook. You are’t actually required by law to open those Christmas cards. I know, that advice is probably a little late, but you certainly don’t have to keep looking at them or put them somewhere that keeps them in front of you. Do your best not to make it worse for yourself than necessary.
Here’s a funny thought to end with: Jesus’ birth, not getting into December 25 or what precisely Jesus’ birth date might have been, but his arrival into this world, could not have been an easy or peaceful time for Mary and Joseph. They weren’t home, or with family, or even at a nice bed and breakfast. They were in accomodations below those expected by humans, and dealing with these accomdations in the most stressful and painful of times: childbirth. Don’t believe the gloss-it-over Christmas songs on the radio. Calm and bright? All is? Really? Sure, I’ll agree to the infant being “holy” and “tender,” but “mild?” Seriously? The Prince of Peace was born in extremely unpeaceful circumstances. Babies don’t love that. Then their situation got worse, when the angel told Joseph to flee to Egypt to avoid having Herod murder his son.
I’m not being flippant when I remind you that your chaotic, painful, distressing, even agonizing “holiday” matches up more with how Jesus, Mary, and Joseph experienced this season of the Messiah’s arrival than any of thoe Hallmark movie Christmas scenes does. If you’re surviving an abusive Christmas, or have escaped that abuse but the aftereffects cling to your family, God is with you. I know this because God, actually God, in the baby Jesus, also entered horrific circumstances to be with you.
God’s act of solidarity with us is not sitting by the fire where we can see and smell the fresh-cut evergreen, decorated with “Baby’s First Christmas” ornaments.
God’s act of solidarity with us is being forced to leave home, make do with circumstances no one would choose, fleeing violence, and iving as a refugee, an immigrant seeking safety and asylum in a foreign land.
Advent is the season when we wait for God to arrive, and God is arriving not in that Hallmark scene, but with you. Right where you are now.