St. Matthew's Episcopal Church Maple Glen, Pennsylvania

When Christmas isn’t Merry

Thirteen years ago, Christmas was a sad and lonely time for me. My marriage was over, my toddler was living with my ex-wife in another state and I didn’t really feel like Christmas was something I wanted to celebrate. I hoped and prayed for a Christmas Miracle, for my marriage and family to be reunited once again. In my heart I knew the miracle would never take place, but I continued to pray anyway. I wanted the season of Christmas to end before it ever began. It was hard to walk through the mall watching families do their Christmas shopping while I was fighting back the tears from my eyes. Even watching my own brothers and sisters celebrate with their children on Christmas morning made me wish that it were January 2nd and not December 25th. In short, that Christmas season was not one of joy and expectation but rather one of sadness and dread. In the time since that fateful year, I have met many other people who have similar feelings about the Christmas season.

During this time of year, we think that everything is merry and bright. Yet for many people that concept couldn’t be farther from the truth. While many people are decorating their homes, buying presents for family members and listening to Christmas Carols, there are also many people for whom this season is a dark time. A period filled with sadness, anxiety, and depression. For some people going about their daily lives during this time of year is a difficult task. Whether their feelings stem from the death of a husband or wife, the overdose of a child, the end of their marriage or even as a result of missing the child they can’t have due to infertility, the darkness they encounter is real. For them, the anticipation of the light of Christ entering our world as a baby with two loving parents on Christmas Day is not a sign of joy but can be another reminder of the world they no longer have.

Besides the challenges people face due to mental health issues, there are many families forced to decide between gifts for their children and food and shelter for their family. For the unemployed and underemployed, Christmas is a very real struggle. Imagine the toll it would take knowing that you are unable to buy even a small gift for your child because your checking account is overdrawn, your credit cards are maxed out and by living paycheck-to-paycheck you ensure that for the other eleven months in the year your family has food and shelter. For families living on those conditions, turning on the television or going to the mall is a painful reminder of what they don’t have. Everyone we turn right now, we are bombarded by merchandising and gifts, yet that isn’t possible for many.

Our society has the image of an ideal Christmas. Whether it is in movies or on television, everyone always lives happily ever after at Christmas. Movies, like Jingle All the Way, show parents doing everything possible to get “the” perfect present for their children. The Home Alone Franchise tells us that even when families struggle with each other in the end everyone will be together and happy.

If you are struggling to find joy and happiness this Christmas season, I want you to know you are not alone. There is no shame in how you feel right now. While the picture perfect Christmas may be real for some, it is not for everyone. It is okay to be worried, anxious or sad. Those are all valid and normal human emotions. Honor your feelings, let them be within you and know others feel the same way. The Christmas season that is celebrated from Thanksgiving through December 25 is not a religious celebration but a secular celebration. Whether we are prepared or not, on December 25, the birth of baby will be celebrated. In that birth, God came down to earth in order to live as one of us, to feel like one of us and to suffer like one of us. God knows those feelings we try to hide from others this time of year and God will be with us in those feelings. We are not to feel ashamed or embarrassed by them because no matter what, God has and will continue to call us Beloved.   We are loved unconditionally and that is what is celebrated on December 25th.

Many years ago, as I struggled that Christmas, many dark thoughts went through my head. It was a direct result of caring friends that I made it through that season without harming myself. If you or someone you know is struggling this season reach out for help, my door is always open; my phone is always on.  If you aren’t comfortable talking to me I can refer you to other people or agencies. You are too important to struggle in silence.