Making Peace with Christmas
Hi everyone. Sorry it’s been a little quiet around here, but I’ve been in the middle of breaking bad holiday habits and it’s been taking up a lot of my time.
“Bad holiday habits? What are those?” - Thanks for asking! :-) Let me explain…
For the last few years, I’ve found myself struggling through the holidays. The Joy of Christmas was overshadowed by stress I put on myself to somehow create the “perfect Christmas”. The Magic of the season was smothered by the harsh reality of suffering all around me. The Light was darkened by overwhelming sadness and grief. My unrealistic expectations of what the holidays should look like didn’t help matters. Top it off with confusion about exactly what I believed the “reason for the season” really is these days and it was just too much to take. It got worse and worse until last year, I went into multiple full blown panic attacks. I barely made it through the holidays without a complete nervous breakdown and I knew that I was going to have to make some very real changes in my approach to this time of year or otherwise, things were going to get very, very, verrrrry bad in my house at Christmastime.
I won’t go into all the details as to why this happened, (actually there are plural “whys”), but I knew I had gotten myself into an emotionally dark hole that I needed help climbing out of. So, I found a new therapist and started doing some internal work back in June that helped me prepare for this season in advance. I broke some bad habits and made some changes that have definitely helped me stay more positive during this holiday season. I can actually say I have enjoyed the holidays this year - more than I have in years! Success!
I saw a quote recently that said something like, “When you get to be a certain age, you will always struggle with some grief around the holidays” and I believe that to be true. Almost everyone I know that is in my age group has it. It’s just part of life. We are all grieving something, whether it’s missing parents who have passed away, missing children who have grown-up and moved away, missing beloved pets, grieving traditions that aren’t being celebrated anymore, etc… things change and the holidays just seem to put a spotlight on that fact.
I think the biggest grief many of us struggle with is losing the innocence of the season. People are hurting and struggling all around us and as we get older, if we have chosen to open our eyes to the pain, injustice and un-rest in the world, we see it and can’t un-see it, and it brings a heaviness (and maybe even guilt) to our own celebrations. Ugh. Have I sufficiently depressed everyone now? Ha. (Sorry about that!)
What I’m getting at here is that acknowledgment of our reality and our circumstances is the only way to start making them better. I was in denial about what was happening emotionally with myself and it eventually blew up into those panic attacks I had last year. One thing I have learned is your body WILL eventually tell you when it’s had enough… both physically and emotionally. And my body definitely screamed “HELP”, as loudly as it could. I’m glad I listened because this year was a whole different experience, even though my circumstances hadn’t really changed. What changed was how I viewed my circumstances. And one of the BIG things for me was in how I approached religion in conjunction with the holidays.
Many of you know that my religious views have changed a lot over the last several years. During my lifetime, I’ve bounced around to several different denominations within the Christian religion, each one telling me that their views were the right views… …and I settled into each one for awhile, happy and content until I started asking questions. OH, THE QUESTIONS. Those always start problems.
I mean, let’s just look at Christmas and what I was taught as a child and some of the questions that started appearing in my head as I grew older.
“So Dec. 25th isn’t really Jesus’ birthday? We just made that date up? And baby Jesus wasn’t really born in a stable with animals all around? And there weren’t really 3 wise men? And the “wise men” were probably astrologers?!?! But I thought astrology was BAD! And the wise men really weren’t there the night Jesus was born? And there were no angels singing? And there was no mention of an innkeeper in the bible? No mention of Mary riding a donkey? What else did we all just make up?” I mean.. what IS true about the night of Jesus’ birth that we were taught???
For a little info on the myths of Christmas, go here: https://christiananswers.net/christmas/mythsaboutchristmas.html
The Christmas story was just one of the things that started making me go “huh” with what I was taught within my religion. What else have they just been making up and telling me to believe? That just started a snowball of questions which led me to leave organized religion and “going to church” for awhile. The last few years have actually been a wonderful time of bible study and discovery that has led me to a much healthier place in my spiritual life, and I am grateful for it. But honestly, part of the grief I have felt around the holidays these last few years is grieving the beautiful traditions I used to enjoy so much in my churches that are part of celebrating Jesus’ birth. I missed hearing the handbells, singing the beautiful Christmas hymns, the candlelight services, the children’s choirs performances, and the holy reverence we felt as a body of believers towards our dear Savior. Yes, I was grieving it all. But I was grieving something that I also didn’t feel completely comfortable participating in, so therein lies the problem. It’s like sentimentally missing your ex, but you also know you have been better off without them. So what do you do? How do you finally let that ex go? Well…you get a new boyfriend, of course! Ha.
Ok.. maybe that wasn’t the best correlation, but it’s the best I can do right now so roll with it, k? ;-)
So….. I have been making some new Christmas traditions and also allowing myself to enjoy the good parts of some of the old traditions, even while i’m still working through my theology. I’m actually looking forward to going to my first Christmas Eve service in years and hopefully re-connecting with the holiness of that simple tradition. Celebrating Advent, which is something I never did in my Southern Baptist or Church of Christ years, has been a new tradition that has been helping the last couple of years. And another new tradition I hope to start is celebrating Christmastide.
What is Christmastide? Don’t feel bad if you aren’t aware of this. I’ve grown up in religious circles my entire life and had never heard of it! (this is one reason why looking at many other religious traditions has enriched my life… but that is a topic for another day.) Christmastide is the twelve days of Christmas AFTER Christmas Day, which lead us up to Jan. 6th, the day of Epiphany. I had grown up singing the traditional song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” but I had ZERO idea that it was talking about the days AFTER Christmas! Oh, the things I’m learning!! By the way, I had never heard of Epiphany either until the last couple of years as well.
Here is a bit about Epiphany in case you are interested: https://www.christianity.com/wiki/holidays/is-epiphany-three-kings-day-a-biblical-holiday.html
I love the idea of continuing to dig deeper into the life of Jesus during these days after Christmas while I’m in a slower season. I’m actually excited to learn more about this special time in the Christian calendar. After the last few years of feeling detached with the Christian aspect of Christmas, these new traditions are part of my way of making peace with Christmas.
While I may be processing what my new beliefs are, one thing I can’t discount is my experiences. Maybe there were many details about the Christmas story that were embellished but that doesn’t take away the very real connection I feel on a spiritual level when I strip away all the details and get to the heart of what Jesus’ birth is supposed to acknowledge. That God chose to humble himself and become one of his own creations… a human being. He walked on this earth so that he could experience everything we humans do. He felt pain, fear, hurt, sadness, loneliness, betrayal, and frustration. He felt joy, happiness, love, connection, peace and excitement. He knows what we feel so when we come to him with our problems or praises, he KNOWS exactly what we are going through. And he showed us how to respond to all those emotions. You know, Jesus never said “Worship me” — he just said, “Follow me and become LIKE me”. That’s the thing I keep coming back to. That God came down to earth as Jesus to show us how we are to live. To show us how we are to love. Following the teachings of Jesus have never led me astray. Never.
So this Christmas, as I continue to sort out which Bible stories are true, what traditions from my previous religion I feel good about continuing, and how to find a healthier spirituality moving forward, I have found that the secret for me is slowing down enough to experience the season and not just “get through it”. I’m finding new ways of connecting with Emmanuel, “God with us”, and it’s been a beautiful thing.
God not only came down to earth as a man, but God also lives within us. Within each one of us. Making peace with Christmas and the whole holiday season has become more about finding God in this world than it is about following a specific set of rules. I see God in my grandchildren’s giggles, the beauty of nature, and the check-out lady’s smile. I see God in the sun as it’s rising each morning, in the strength of a friend sitting by her husband’s bedside in the ICU, and in the courage of those speaking out for injustice. I also see God in the tired waitress who forgot to bring me more coffee. In the angry man who just cut me off on the road. In the political pundits who are yelling at each other on tv. Yes, God is in them too. He’s in everyone. It’s just that not everyone knows it. They don’t see it in themselves. They aren’t in touch with the God inside them. Oh, if only they were! How this world would be a very different place.
I’m going to close today with this beautiful message from one of my favorite Instagram follows, @monkindocs :
”When The Word was made flesh, there are a number of things that could have happened:
The Word could have become flesh as an adult and commenced their ministry from day 1.
The Word could have become flesh as a newborn and placed in Mary's arms to grow into an adult.
Instead, the Word becomes flesh *within* Mary. Ponder that for a moment...
Mary carried the Word *within* her. For nine months or so.
And then she had to *give birth* to the Word that had grown within her.
It was then that the Word was brought into the world as human.
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus is constantly reminding and awakening his listeners to the reality that the Spirit of God and the Kingdom of God are within them.
Just like Mary, you are carrying the Christ in you...
The Spirit of God.
The Spirit that *IS* Love, and Life, and Being itself.
Dwells. In. You...
May your pondering on this beautiful image this Christmas Eve remind you of the presence of the Living God living within you. Yes, you dwell in God. But never forget, friend, that God dwells in you. May peace be with you.”
Merry Christmas, everyone. May you also find peace this Christmas season.
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