Rethink Church
We’re discovering God together through Scripture, tradition, reason and experience
Advent & Christmas Spirituality
Is it too much pressure to be merry at Christmas?

Plenty has been already said about the over-commercialization of Christmas. Around our house, we often quote Lucy from Peanuts that it’s all run by a big eastern syndicate. It’s also well-known that the holidays trigger depression for many people.

I am fortunate in that I am not much prone to depression and I largely ignore the commercial aspects of the holidays. (I spent Black Friday sleeping-in.) That’s not to say I don’t have my own struggles with the season. Not so deep down, I want the sepia tone magical Hallmark-Disney version where everyone hugs, cries, and finds the true meaning of Christmas by the end of the show. 
However, if we stop and reflect on the first Christmas, it was hardly a very serene event. I don’t have children and have never given birth, so I can’t comment on the experience first-hand, but I did have the privilege to be present when a friend gave birth to her daughter. There were people everywhere, there was anxiety, screaming, absolutely no modesty, and, um, bodily fluids. In a word, it was chaos. And that was in a hospital with doctors, nurses, and every manner of technology. I can only imagine how the chaos level ratchets up when you move the setting to a manger full of barn animals.  In the midst of my friend’s birthing chaos, there was a moment when a miracle occurred and her daughter came into this world. That was a dozen or so years ago and it still brings tears to my eyes to think back on that time. The miracle of Christmas is the moment that Jesus arrives in the world and the promise his birth signifies.
So, I’m not sure where we got the idea that Christmas should be one big party filled with non-stop merriment and joy. I get sucked into that notion pretty much every year and tend to view Christmas with either the lens of being the most special-filled Christmas ever or being a complete and total disappointment. (I am a woman of extremes.) Instead of trying to make the season into one big success or failure, how about focusing on the moments that bring meaning to Christmas? 

What will be the moments that bring you peace and joy this Christmas?

A couple years ago I went shopping for gifts one evening after work. As I was walking down the sidewalk among the throngs of other shoppers, I was frankly annoyed and not in the mood to deal with the crowds. That’s when I heard a woman walking nearby singing Christmas carols. I’m not even sure she realized she was singing out loud. We soon parted, but I smiled as she passed. I forgot to be annoyed and, for that moment at least, found a little of the Christmas spirit myself.
What will be the moments that bring you peace and joy this Christmas? Maybe it’s hearing your favorite Christmas song on the radio in the car and belting it out for all you’re worth. It could be finding that just right gift that you know will be perfect for that person. It could be offering someone in need a bit of human kindness.  Perhaps it is finding a spare minute from the holiday chaos to enjoy a cup of hot chocolate alone. Or maybe it’s a moment in prayer that provides the faith you need to get to the other side of that chaos. 
It strikes me that my examples above are largely secular in nature. I think that is because sometimes even the spiritual expectations around Christmas can be too much pressure. Early in my relationship with my husband, Brian, we went to Portland to spend Christmas with his family. His brother was a choir director at one church in Portland, where my husband’s niece and nephew were also in the children’s choir, and his grandparents were members at a different church. We went to the early children’s service at the brother’s church, the regular Christmas Eve service at the grandparents’ church, and then later the service back at the first church. In some years, family members go to the big church downtown for the midnight service. After that first Christmas Eve, I was churched-out. Christmas began to lose its meaning and I became more frustrated by the constant church hopping than I was moved by the magic of the season.  I have since learned to institute a one-service policy to preserve my own sanity. Church can be a place to reconnect with God during the holidays, but it can present its own challenges too. And, again, the first Christmas did not take place in a church. Whatever your Christmas looks like this year, have faith that the miracle only needs but a moment, and no particular time and place, to reveal itself. 

Lyda K. Hawes, guest writer

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