One thing I enjoy doing at this time of year is making Christmas cookies: rolling out the dough, getting out the cookie cutters in the shape of Santa, or a Christmas tree…I did this with my mom when I was a kid, and I did this with my kids as they were growing up.
So I was sad when I began making the cookies last week—because my kids have grown up and moved away, and my mom is in a nursing home with Alzheimer’s disease. The holiday tradition of making the cookies connects me to family memories, but in a way which makes me aware of what I’ve lost.
Many people experience sadness and even depression at this time of year. It is dark and cold, which doesn’t help. (Some people have seasonal affective disorder during the darker and cloudier winter season.) There is an expectation in popular culture that we will all be happy at this time of year. I suspect that this is especially true for those of us who celebrate Christmas. This holiday is loaded with those expectations: everyone is supposed to connect to their family, to be joyfully uplifted by the story of the baby Jesus, and to get great satisfaction from giving and receiving the perfect gifts. “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” as the song says—but songs and advertisers create an impossibly perfect ideal of Christmas that’s hard to live up to. So many things can get in the way of happiness at this time of year: family dysfunction; illness and death; addiction; financial troubles. The winter holiday season can magnify those problems.
It’s OK to be sad, or scared, or lonely, at Christmas time. If that’s what is going on for you, then that’s real. Sad feelings are not evil, and we don’t need to make them worse by feeling like we’re “supposed to” be happy because it’s Christmas time. If you’re experiencing a “blue” Christmas, I invite you to be gentle with yourself and to seek healthy support wherever you can find it. This includes asking your minister for pastoral care. As ministers and therapists all know, this time of year there is a higher need for counseling. Use your support network.
This week is the longest night and the shortest day of the year: the dark time. Winter Solstice. As Pagan spirituality reminds us, darkness is its own season with its own gifts, not merely something to be endured, not merely a darkness that needs to be driven out by bright lights. Darkness provides space for rest, for healing, for planning, for gestation. Darkness has its own wisdom and power, just like light does. May this season of darkness and of winter holidays bring you the gifts of the darkness.
Spirit of love, divine wisdom that we find within us and between us and beyond us, be here now. Be with us in the time of darkness. May we be at ease in the darkness, seeking and finding the gifts of introspection and of rest.
Spirit of Christmas, be with us in your purest form: a message of hope and joy and peace, like the celebration of a baby being born.
Voice of materialism and promise of shallow happiness: be gone from here. We do not need your message of satisfaction through buying things. May each of us know that we are enough, just as we are.
We are enough, in our joy and in our sadness;
we are enough, in our striving and in our imperfection;
we are enough, in the light and in the darkness.
Rev. Andrew Frantz
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Day off: Friday.
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