The holidays are often a mixed bag for most people. While the ad agencies have manufactured what our Christmas should look like and be like (matching PJs, perfectly blown hair, skipping and dancing all the way, a perfectly crafted ham and painted on smiles), that is very likely not the experience most of us have. Even those among us who enjoy the holidays and generally like the people we gather with still can harbor sadness, guilt, stress, shame, or anger during the holiday rush. It’s very likely that we all go through a range of emotions this time of year. And that is normal.
Over coffee, a friend and I were talking about the changing traditions this year brings for her family. She has several brothers and sisters who have moved away from home, her parents have moved into assisted living this past year and she feels like the only non-moving part of her family. She named with some dread that things are just going to be different this year. Every year since I can remember my dad’s side of the family would gather at my grandmother and grandfather’s house. There were over 60 of us in a post-WWII era bungalow in Ft. Thomas, KY for decades. And then when they grew older and moved into an assisted living facility, my cousin volunteered to host for the first year. And while it was good and fine– food was had, presents unwrapped, big belly laughter shared– it was different, and many of us grieved that change.
If you’re feeling jolly and bright, I don’t mean to bring you down. Really. This time of year can be so joyful and life-giving. But if you’re not feeling so jolly– I don’t want you to feel alone either. Holiday blues are the real deal and it can often feel isolating and lonely. And we do ourselves a disservice when we plaster “Holly Jolly” over everything and ignore that some folks just aren’t there. It’s OK to name that and to let yourself feel what you are feeling.
As we anticipate the coming of a babe in swaddling cloth who turns the world upside down, I pray that we are not only prepared to celebrate the miracle of birth, but we are ready to engage each other with the realness that Jesus showed. When Lazarus died, our Gospel writers found it important enough to tell us that Jesus was deeply grieved, even to the point of tears. May we have the strength to share our real selves with one another and be vulnerable with one another. It’s only when we are our real selves that we can carry each other’s burdens and celebrate each other’s small miracles.
So for those of you feeling the holiday blues (a lot or a little) this year, here is my blessing to you.
For you who have been separated from a loved one by death or life’s circumstances
For you who will be creating new traditions to replace the familiar times gone by
For you who will gather in unfamiliar places
For you who feel alone
For you who will be far away from home and wish you were not
For you who will return to your “home” but wish you were hundreds of miles away
For you who will re-enter figurative closets to make others feel comfortable
For you who will gladly create new traditions but still grieve what will not be this year
For you who will be living with the depression as the long nights of winter grow tough
For you who will engage in difficult situations and conversations with loved ones
For you who grieve the loss of a parent, friend, a loved one, a pet
And for you who just feel the holiday blues…
We see you. You are not alone. May God’s peace be upon you. May you find a hope in the light of that little babe that shines on the longest of nights. May you sense God’s loving presence around you and may you feel God’s loving embrace from those who surround you. The nights may be long, but the sun always rises on a new day.
One of the things I’ve loved about UBC since I first arrived here nearly five years ago is the sense of family and community among these gathered saints. Y’all take care of each other well. So this holiday season, if you are one of those “Jolly and Bright”s, maybe pick up the phone and reach out to someone you’ve not seen in a while. Squeeze someone a little longer. Live into that UBC way. Because this is a community where vulnerability and honesty are valued.