Isn’t it time to unwrap hope from under the shadows? Here’s how to reclaim Christmas joy this year.
It’s Christmas again. It feels like this time of year always lives in the extremes – of great and sweeping Christmas joy, or of yet another year of holiday time where things are still very much the same. It’s also a time for those annual traditions that come along with the season.
In our family, we take the kids out to the City Christmas lights, drive around all the lit up houses, play lots of games together, go to what feels like 30 billion Christmas parties, go on other adventures, and watch way too many Christmas movies.
On the Christmas movies, it’s usually the ones from my 10 Christmas Movies That Are Actually Great list, but there’s been a few additions or changes this year. Sure, we’ve already hit up Jingle All The Way, both versions of The Grinch, and the all-time great The Muppet Christmas Carol, but some recommendations for holiday viewing this year include Candy Cane Lane (the first Eddie Murphy movie I’ve found funny in a looooooooong time), and Family Switch. They were actually a whole lot of fun.
And as the kids keep growing up, I’m sure we’ll continue to add and adapt more holiday movies and more holiday traditions.
I wonder what holiday traditions you have this time of year? We’re probably not alone in our love for holiday movies or adventures or Christmas lights.
But I suppose it’s worth calling out another universal tradition in that every individual in the whole world seems to be completely aware of the state of their wellbeing and reflect on their level of contentment with their life this time of year. Indeed, Christmas time holds up a confronting mirror to the human heart.
In truth, Christmas isn’t the only time of year that does this – it’s really any of those big events that come up every year that can fill the heart with joy, or anxiety. Like your birthday and New Years’ Eve, Christmas comes around again and reminds you of where you were this time last year, or even this time 10 years ago, and confronts you with the question of whether or not things will be different in your heart and life this year.
Will you be joining Wham and Tay Tay singing Last Christmas remembering giving your heart away to someone who didn’t value it? Or remembering a disappointing interaction with a family member or close friend? This year it could be another year reminding you of how far behind you are financially or another year of your dreams going unfulfilled or prayers unanswered.
When you’re in that boat or anything like it, the idealised versions of ourselves and cheesy movies where everything works out become confronting or even painful when juxtaposed against our own lives.
Maybe this is why joining Santa as the paragons of Christmas are also admittedly strange characters like Ebenezer Scrooge and The Grinch – hating Christmas, but in truth, jaded by life, and confronted and even annoyed by everyone else’s seeming happiness.
I think something that’s been cool in society is that there is so much more awareness and support for people doing it tough at this bigger times of the year. For every post about Christmas joy there are also a lot of people putting out support for mental health and taking time for yourself. As someone who has struggled with depression and anxiety before I value this a lot.
But perhaps we are going too far the other way. Because as confronting as Christmas time can be for all of us, it’s actually a lot of really fundamentally important issues that Christmas confronts us with.
Such as, when will my life be different? Who am I called to be? Am I still wasting time on things that don’t matter? It reminds us of the dreams we had and still have beating in our hearts. As difficult as they can be, these are actually really necessary questions to continue to put before ourselves, indeed even beyond Christmas time, in order to discover and live out our best lives.
And here’s probably the largest question that if you’re living in a shadow this Christmas that you’re confronted with:
When will I be happy?
Joy to the World, Christmas joy, joyful and triumphant, tidings of comfort and joy, joy joy joy. Christmas almost throws it in our face in obnoxious levels of exposure and mandate for us to adopt its spirit and allow our hearts to be comforted and smile.
And if you’re in this boat where the overexposure of joy this Christmas is getting a bit much, I want to reframe the question you may have been asking yourself.
Instead of “When will I be happy?”, I want to ask you:
Isn’t it time for you to be happy?
All of us face disappointments and upsets. We lose opportunities, friends, people. We see the season of friends as they come and go from our lives. We wish, we hope, we dream.
And in truth you’ve had many Christmases where you’ve been more solemn, reflective, and leaned on the support. The encouragement to feel your feelings and process things.
But I want to take your hand this year and remind you that your life isn’t over yet. Your life is waiting for you on the other side of your grief, disappointment, and inability to see beyond today.
And at some point, we have to decide that we have mourned enough now. We have cried enough tears, we have had enough Christmases staring down the bottom of the bottle or the porn or the anger or the distractions or whatever vice we comfort ourselves with, we’ve lived long enough living out a love affair with disappointment.
Dutch theologian Henri Nouwen said this: “Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day”.
It’s a confronting proposition. On the one hand, the things we want in our lives or want to be different may not yet change. But on the other hand, if we continue to refuse to choose joy, we are going to be continually living a shell of our true selves, withdrawn, lacking generosity or energy or time for others because we are continuing to spend all of it for years at a time on ourselves.
If Christmas is rough for you this year, I feel for you. It can be an absolute nightmare. I know I’ve had some rough Christmases. And in truth, it isn’t really Christmas that’s the problem, is it? It’s that Christmas reminds you of it.
There’s a surprisingly profound observation to this point in Illumination’s Grinch movie, where he says “I have spent my entire life hating Christmas and everything about it. But now I see that it wasn’t Christmas I hated, it was being alone.“.
But we can’t stay there. The stages of grief are meant to be stages, not life sentences. Life is seasonal, not permanent. And the one who actually has the most control about what’s going to happen in our lives is ourselves.
People become Grinchy or Scrooges by refusing to choose joy enough years of their life where eventually no one else and nothing else matters but their own sorrow. And I want to ask you this:
Is that the person you want to be?
Do you want to be the person who never has enough energy, time, or joy for anyone else? Do you want to be the person consumed by despair so much so that you have no space in your life to take in anything else?
You wanted to get married, or married again – you need room in your heart for someone else. You wanted to have kids or adopt – you need to allow space for them to be present in your life, or for spiritual children in the world around you. You wanted to make friends and have meaningful connection in your family and friendship groups – you have to be alive and open and accessible to others.
You wanted the dreams of your heart to come true – you have to stop choosing despair and sorrow and start to say yes.
This Christmas, Emmanuel has come. I dunno about you, but I’m choosing Christmas joy. I’m choosing the dreams in my heart. I’m choosing the calling that God has put on my life. I’m choosing to celebrate the people around me as loudly as I can. I’m choosing connection.
Will everything magically change this Christmas for me or for you? In truth, possibly not. There are people in our lives who will remain the same no matter what we do. There are situations that we may never be able to do much about.
But hey, I have a whole life ahead of me still. I have been given so much, and continue to be given so much. The soul and indeed my own soul has felt its worth through the gift of what we remember at Christmas. And there is so much more for me. I celebrate the day.
And for you too, friend. You too.
I don’t know how many days, months, years or even decades that the doors have been closed and the lights have been off. But this Christmas, why not choose joy? Why not open the window and let the light back in? Why not dream again, believe again, connect again, hope again?
Merry Christmas to you and yours this holiday season and believing for your best life.
What will you choose this Christmas? Whatever other choices you make this holiday season: choose joy.