This time of year automatically elicits exuberance, right? As the popular Christmas song proclaims, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” The song lyrics are a rhythmic recitation of all the fun the season entails. There are parties for hosting and mistletoe-ing, kids jingle-belling, and everyone telling you, “Be of good cheer.” After all, it’s the hap-happiest season of all!
Can I be honest? For me, the Christmas season can throw me into an emotional tailspin. I feel overwhelmed by all the holiday to-dos. I’m one of those rare breeds of women who don’t like to shop. So, all the extra shopping is downright depleting. I feel suffocated by all of the ritual requirements — like watching Christmas movies, baking Christmas cookies, and attending Christmas programs. Each year, I miss the memo on how to get the allocation of extra time and energy, that everyone else seems to have, to do all the Christmas things.
Can I be even more honest? More than any other time of year, this season, for me, ushers in loneliness. As a child, the shift I experienced through my parents’ divorce and remarriages was excruciating. Each holiday, I moved back and forth from one set of parents and siblings to the other. Every move made me feel uprooted and detached.
The new tradition was like a monument to a family disrupted and disturbed. Instead of feeling the security of two families, I felt disconnected from both. I felt like I belonged nowhere. It’s been a long time since I was a child, but the ghost of Christmas past conjures up little Lucretia’s pain of not belonging so intensely that it feels like I lived it an hour ago. Even though I’m now fortunate to be surrounded by family, friends, and festivities, the pain of my past isolates me.
Winter’s shorter days and longer nights beckon me to hibernate — to hide away and hold my breath until the first signs of spring. For years, I did just that. I kept my head down and hung out on the periphery of the Christmas holiday.
Then marriage gifted me with a husband for whom this season truly is the most wonderful time of the year! Nathan relishes in all the Christmas trimmings — all the things that seem to assault my senses and sensibility. Initially, I resented his feel-good sentiment. I was afraid that his holiday enthusiasm would override my need to relinquish the stuff that drained me. This, compounded with the Christmas expectations of our children, caused my anxiety to thicken.
But Nathan listened as I poured out my yucky feelings associated with this time of year. Empathetic and concerned for my happiness, he encouraged me to forgo all of the prescribed season’s trappings and cultivate what I found to be holy in the midst of the holiday season. The Hebrew word for holy (qadosh) means something that has been “set apart for a special purpose.” The word holiday is formed from the words “holy” and “day.” However, the demands for this time of year can be so overwhelming that we miss out on all that is special, all that has been set apart to cultivate life. We inadvertently forfeit the holiness of the holiday season.
Nathan’s caring advice drew me in from the periphery. I’ve learned to create space for the things that allow the holiday to be holy for me. I look forward to indulging in the special moments set aside for this time, like the joy-filled family traditions that accompany winter break. I tune out the noise of secular commercialism that exhausts me. I give my attention and time to the sacred gifts that are given only during this holiday season — like watching our girls beam with pride as they adorn the Christmas tree with every ornament they’ve crafted since preschool. Each year without fail, this replenishes life and gives pause for reflection. Here, my heart is fully present and authentically engaged.
When I was growing up, we knew that the Christmas season didn’t officially begin until we heard “Silent Night” on the radio. Now, as it plays, I sing all the words as my heart connects to the millions of others who are also likely listening and singing along. Though we don’t know each other and are separated by space, we’re nostalgically in one accord. This moment is holy.
Now I enthusiastically welcome winter break. I express gratitude for this holy interlude. In it, I have room to rest and reset. I have a sacred space to consider doing life a different way, to make amendments and revisions, to dream next year’s dream.