One of the deepest questions of this season isn’t around presents, lights, carols or shops – it’s this: When will Christmas be happy?
Christmas really is one of the most unique times of the year. I’m walking around Australian shops in 40 degree heat and our country is currently facing a huge bushfire crisis, but at the same time, all the songs playing are about winter wonderlands and letting it snow and the carol of the winter bells… and everyone seems to find it completely normal. Shops are open later providing more opportunities to shop, and yet they’ve still been always full. Our politically correct world all of a sudden has no issue with religious figures or making comments about fat men with white beards.
It’s a time of feasting, presents, toys, traditions, big family get togethers, lights, classic movies, and love. Or at least that’s what we feel it should be. When Christmas is working, it works great, and the magic of what Christmas could be is indeed alive and well. But when it’s not working so well, you’re left wondering when will Christmas be happy.
Christmas brings with it a darker side every year. As with anything that repeats every year, Christmas brings with it a magnifying glass on the areas of your life that are less than you want them to be. It reminds you of where you were this time last year and the years before that. Check out some of these lesser known facts on how happy Christmas actually is for people:
- Relationships Australia studies report that Christmas is in the top six stressful experiences in life, up there with moving house, divorce and changing jobs. About a third of respondents to their 2016 survey reported family relationships highly negatively affected by work-life balance and financial pressures of the season
- A study by Age UK carried up in the leadup to Christmas found hundreds of thousands of older people who found themselves alone on Christmas day, and also who had not seen a single friend in over a month
- The pressures of the upcoming holiday make December 11 the most likely day to break up
I think one of the most telling indicators of the loneliness and stress of Christmas are a few of the stories that get repeated every year. The third most popular Christmas song according to the Spotify numbers is Wham’s Last Christmas – a song of remorse and pain about the loss of love in the previous year. We have the story of the Grinch, a child who is rejected at Christmas and for every Christmas, so much so to the point that the only way he can handle the pain is by tearing down the happiness of others. And of course we have Ebenezer Scrooge, a man with a similar story – left alone at Christmas time, with breaks up with the love of his life at Christmas, spending his life angry at the world for what Christmas did to him.
I’ve always liked the movie Four Holidays (also known as Four Christmases) which is a bit of a humourous depiction on the real state of relationships at the time of Christmas. It’s about two people dating each other who both come from broken homes and need to travel to four different places to celebrate with everyone. It’s funny but surprisingly profound in presenting what life’s reality is like for many people – family breakdown, relationships that are unreconciled or have unaddressed issues, holiday-induced childhood trauma, painful memories, how little we actually know about each other, disparate dreams and goals – all thrown in the pressure cooker of the Christmas season.
When will Christmas be happy? When you look at the stats and the stories that resonate with people this time of the year, you can see why so many people are asking this question.
For me, Christmas has been a bit of a mixed bag. Some years have been really wonderful – others have been really hard. Some Christmases I remember laughing so hard I cried. Another Christmas comes to mind where I spent a few hours crying into the carpet in my living room, lying there overwhelmed with what was going on. The magnifying glass on relationships and where you are with your goals and dreams is often a challenging one to confront, especially when the key message of the season is to celebrate with joy. Sometimes, that can be furthest from the truth. Some years would be as blissful as a 90s Christmas movie. Others would be reminders of bad relationship breakdowns, of struggles to move forward in life, of wondering when it will be my turn, of wondering if certain things would ever be different.
I think it’s hard because all of us want to be happy. We want the holiday to be a time of celebration. We want the joy that we’ve been told our whole lives we should have at this time of the year. Even beyond the holiday season, we want our lives to look and be a certain way. I even recently wrote about that challenge of expectations vs. reality in my 2019 In Review post. When you want your life to look a certain way, when you’re single and you want to be married, when you’re heartbroken and you want to be whole, when you’re lonely and you want to be celebrated, when you want your broken relationships to be reconciled, when you have people and situations in your life that refuse to change – that’s when Christmas gets hard.
And all those things add up and start to prompt some of the deepest and darkest concerns of the heart. If only someone would celebrate me. If only someone would think me worth the effort. If only someone would give be their best when I feel like I give others my best. If only the love I give could be returned to be. If only…
If only we could see that this is what the Christmas message actually is.
Lost in commercialism, we forget a little child in a manger, born to prove every insecurity I feel about myself is incorrect. In a world where I may feel overlooked or unseen, Christmas proves that I am completely seen, that I am worthy of the ultimate effort, that someone cares enough about me to reach out to me and repair and restore what’s been broken. It tells me that I’m loved, I’m worthwhile… Christmas shows me that I matter. You don’t need to do anything for acceptance, but you can live a life from acceptance instead.
We think this message is dated and irrelevant. We relegate it to baby ceramic Jesus on the coffee table or in the Myer catalogue. Perhaps that’s why we remain so unhappy. Perhaps that’s why I still think I’m unloved or alone. Perhaps that’s why we can become like the Grinch or Scrooge and cope with our pain by trying to blame or ruin the joy of others.
The true joy of Christmas is that I am celebrated and loved beyond measure. A child born to die for the chance that I might live, and truly live.
Maybe that message doesn’t take away the bad things that have happened in your life, the rejection you’ve faced, the painful things that still exist in your life today. I think it’s important that we take the time to face and process those feelings at Christmas time. Perhaps Christmas wouldn’t be so painful if we took the time to process things properly throughout the year rather than spending our lives avoiding them or trying to work around them. We blame Christmas for reminding us of the things we’re trying to forget, but maybe running from our problems isn’t going to bring us the peace we need.
Even amidst our challenges, what the message of Christmas does for me is it shows me I never have to face anything alone. That Emmanuel isn’t just a pretty name, but a reality that God is with us… if I’ll let him.
Have you ever had someone in your life who has refused you? Rejected you? Taken your best and wasted it? Given your heart but the very next day, they gave it away? Imagine if you were to do that to someone who cared for you. This Christmas, don’t miss this gift. You are loved and desired more than you could ever know.
I hope this Christmas that you don’t find yourself asking (or asking again), “When will Christmas be happy?”. In the midst of what you may have faced in your life, I hope that this holiday season you find to be a time of restoration, of reconciliation, of new hopes and dreams. See the love that surrounds you this season and indeed through every season of life.
“And I celebrate the day that you were born to die, that I could one day pray for you to save my life.”