“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!” — (Scrooge) Charles Dickens
Did you have a good Christmas? This question is asked from December 26 through mid-January. But asking people if they had a “good” Christmas or a “good” holiday requires them to evaluate it. And what rubric do we use to measure whether or not our holiday has been “successful”?
Christmas and holiday celebrations focus on traditions and provide the warm fuzzy feelings we associate with the satisfaction of a holiday well spent. We may measure experiences by our past Christmases, comparisons with others, or the perfection of a holiday movie celebration. And often we come up short by comparison, which can lead to discontentment, disappointment, and depression.
Our disappointment comes from having created in our own minds a picture of what our holiday will or should look like, and when the reality doesn’t match the picture, we are disappointed. Our emotions are close to the surface. We may cry, we may argue with family members, or we may withdraw because things are not going the way they were supposed to.
The problem is no matter what picture we may have in our minds about what our holiday should look like, other family members likely have a different picture. Even siblings have memories that differ or hold varied significance. One may cherish the memory and smell of fresh baked cookies that are prepared before the holidays. Another may cherish the Christmas Eve candlelight service. And a third may cherish the gathering of family and the games played around the dining room table after the food was put away.
Going in to the holiday season with an evaluation mindset sets us up for failure. Our rational minds can process that that attitude is unhealthy, but our childlike wonder of Christmas is still looking for the emotional high, no matter how old we get.
Holidays and the traditions we expect, even when successful, will not remain the same forever. Loved ones die, children grow; families may be spread out across the country instead of in the same town. Christmas cannot be celebrated based on external trappings. It is kept, as Dickens says, in our hearts.
What should we do to spare ourselves disappointment? First, we should cast off expectations and approach the holiday with a mindset to experience whatever joy and pleasure the season offers. Second, we should take responsibility for creating whatever traditions we hold dear, and not rely on others to fulfill our expectations. And finally, and most importantly, we need to focus on the Reason for the Season. Jesus.
The first Christmas was a simple birth. A mother and father, likely tired from travel, disappointed in the lack of accommodations, excited about the birth of their first child, and worried about provisions. We look at the stable birth and focus on the lack of physical provision. But do you think Joseph and Mary had emotional needs as well? I certainly do. They were no doubt at the end of their own strength; and therefore, totally looking to God and trusting Him for their needs. And God did provide. He provided, among other things, a heavenly, angelic choir!
Jesus, God Incarnate, is available today to meet our needs. Whether those needs are physical or emotional, He is able to help us. We can find joy in the simplest expressions of marking a holiday. We can find peace in the Presence of the King of Kings. We can find love in God’s sacrifice of His own Son for us!
God extends forgiveness to all. And we can extend that same forgiveness to our families and friends. Our families love us, no matter their expression of that love. Their love is imperfect. Their love may disappoint. But God is love. His love is Perfect. He can fill those empty places where expectation and disappointment reside.
This year as we approach the week of Christmas, let us set our minds for success. Let us anticipate responding to “How was your Christmas?” with, “Christmas was great!” It will be great because however we celebrate, Jesus is here. Not just for today, but for eternity. Let us celebrate all our Christmases past, present, and future with a joyful heart.