When Your Days Aren’t Merry and Bright
That may not be a title of a newsletter article you’d expect to see when we’re just days away from having celebrated Christmas: the merriest of holidays for most. Our time has been filled of late with holiday concerts and parties; Christmas shopping and sending out Christmas cards; baking and eating yummy Christmas treats…all activities that you’d think would bring one great joy. In church we’ve set our hearts on preparing for the birth of Jesus; celebrating the 12 days of Christmas, and now it’s almost the season of Epiphany.
Yet this year the reality that for many people, many people who I care about in this congregation, and many of my friends and extended family, getting through the holidays is tough. I’ve heard stories from many that, despite all the parts of the holidays that they enjoy, this season remains a painful reminder of loved ones who are no longer present to celebrate the holidays—whether from death, divorce, estrangement, illness, distance, or some other change in our relationships to ourselves or to others. While for some these weeks and months truly are “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” for others they are bittersweet, tinged with grief, anger, resentment, regret, depression, isolation, or some related mix of emotion.
The marketing of the holiday season as “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” may be precisely why we desperately need to acknowledge that some relate more to the Blue Christmas. By proclaiming the holidays as “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” we may be setting ourselves up to fail. How could the messiness of reality ever live up to the hype of all those perfectly choreographed holiday specials? And our choices shouldn’t be limited to either celebrating a Hallmark Holiday or not celebrating the holidays at all. We have the freedom to find meaningful and authentic ways of marking our holidays with rituals that honor the reality of our actual life.
I was freshly reminded that sorrow, violence, and tragedy have been woven into the Christmas story from the beginning. Many people who are familiar with the Christian tradition are accustomed to hearing the Christmas story told from the second chapter of the Gospel of Luke. But there’s another story about Jesus’ birth in the second chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. And it includes a horrific passage about what happened when King Herod realized that the magi had escaped Judea without revealing the location of Jesus’ birth to him:
When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the magi.
I don’t want to get distracted with the important questions that could and should be asked at other times about this passage’s questionable historicity. Instead, I want to point out that a horrific story about the slaughter of the innocents is embedded in the biblical narrative about Jesus’ birth. Perhaps one of the few redeeming angles to this terrible tale is a reminder to be honest that we inevitably bring our full selves with us into each new holiday season, and the expression of our full selves includes all the messiness of our past and present: all the joy, hope, and peace, but also all the pain, sorrow, and tragedy.
Lastly, I don’t think that time heals all wounds, but I give you permission to be transparent and authentic about how you experience the holidays. As we realize the power of caring for one another we find comfort in naming these feelings; we find some peace in being together. And we journey on, with Jesus, and hope to find ways of integrating our losses into a new sense of ourselves and the world. We can’t always know the way in advance but we do have the choice to rewrite our future stories.
In this spirit, I invite you to receive a “Blessing for the Longest Night” written by the artist Jan Richardson. This blessing is written in the hope that being authentic and honest about our experience of having a Blue Christmas can be part of what leads us — sometimes without us knowing how or why in advance — to a different time, a different place, and a different space on our journey through this life. I offer you this blessing:
does not mean
to take the night away
but it knows
its hidden roads,
knows the resting spots
along the path,
knows what it means
in the company
of a friend….
This is the night
when you can trust
that any direction
you will be walking
toward the dawn.
If the night is dark enough, you can trust that any direction you go, you will be walking toward the dawn.