‘I dread the holiday time of year’ is a statement shared with sadness from many of my clients that trust me enough to be completely honest with their feelings and thoughts. Even though most of us long for the warm feelings evoked by images portrayed on greeting cards of ‘roasted chestnuts and open fires’ shared with loved ones, for many people this happy and loving picture is far from their reality. Instead, they feel overwhelmed by the prospect of obligatory gift buying, feigned merriment at parties they would rather not be at, frantic eating, and nostalgia from memories of times past with people who for various reasons are no longer part of their holidays. If you can relate to a vague sense of bewilderment elicited by this time of year, the following thoughts may help.
Many people have unrealistic expectations about the holidays that are promoted by the media showing extravagant presents underneath the tree being opened by families looking ecstatic about their perfect gifts. What cameras don’t capture are the worried faces of the people wondering how they are going to pay off the debt when they get their credit card bills in the mail.
It is important to remember what really matters. Do not confuse giving love with giving gifts. Although gifts can be an expression of your love, so are your time, your affection, your words of affirmation, and your willingness to forgive an offense. Decide on a budget and invite someone to hold you accountable for keeping it.
Next, you do not have to go to a party just because you were invited to it. Be a good steward of your time and energy. Even Jesus, the Son of God knew He had to retreat from the clamor of the crowds for quiet times with His Father to renew His strength. Pace yourself and find the balance between togetherness and separateness. Also, understand your personality to know if you are the type who is energized by a party or drained by the demands of interacting. Discover and do more activities that nourish rather than deplete your soul. When you take care of yourself you remind yourself that you are worth caring for.
Holidays do not need to be a time to binge on food. Learn how to celebrate Christ’s birthday in other ways. Although you can grant yourself the freedom to eat without guilt when you are hungry, savoring the tastes of your favorite holiday foods with pleasure, you can also make the day special by playing games with your friends, singing, attending church, praying together, or serving the less fortunate together. Remember that it’s creating and sharing positive memories together that are important. Do not confuse receiving love with eating food that you love. When you ‘numb yourself out’ by overeating, it’s difficult to feel the subtle but tender moments of being in the presence of those that you love and you may leave the encounter feeling physically stuffed but emotionally empty.
Finally, don’t let your fond memories of past holidays sabotage your enjoyment of the present by comparing then with now. Although you may realize that loss is inevitable because there will always be those moments of happiness and special meaning that can never be recreated because certain people are no longer part of your life, your sadness is no less genuine. Give yourself permission to grieve ‘what was’, but be careful not to warp the past into a time so perfect and flawless that it can never be achieved in the moment. Sometimes when we recall past favorite holiday seasons, we see our significant loved ones giving us what we have always dreamed of instead of what actually was. But we can only begin to accept our losses when we honestly evaluate the people we loved who are gone for who they were, both their good and their bad.
It helps to remember that all of us are part of broken humanity in need of God’s redemptive love, and sorrow is part of living even in the midst of the season to be jolly.
My prayer for those who struggle during this holiday season with loneliness or sorrow is that you will find God’s peace, comfort and hope in the midst of your pain. And that as you press into the presence of God, the power of the Most High will overshadow you and the Christ Child will be birthed in your heart revealing to the world His unfailing love and faithfulness.