It is Black Friday and I am feeling pretty good. The particular significance of this for me is that traditionally this coming month has been my worst season of the year. I know that there are many people who share this sentiment, but I also know there are lots of people who love this time of year, and that my distaste for the season has been something of a downer for them. For this I apologize.
How is it that I have come to dislike Christmas? There are a number of reasons that come to mind.
1) In this hemisphere, this is literally the darkest time of the year. The winter solstice occurs on December 21st, marking the longest night of the year.Â As I mentioned in my post on â€œPondering Lightâ€, I really respond to light, and mourn its absence when itâ€™s no longer there.Â The darkness of this time of year seems to invite hibernation: a time for being still, sitting beside a fire place, going inward and pondering what life is all about.Â All of this, of course, resonates nicely with the spiritual meanings of Advent.Â But the culture seems to demand precisely the opposite: Get busy; go out into the malls and participate in the frantic rush, the noise, the fight over parking spaces.
2) There is a part of me that really longs for the simple life.Â My pantheon of heroes include Francis of Assisi and Henry David Thoreau, not to mention Jesus of Nazareth. The pursuit of more and more stuff, which often seems to be one of the defining marks of our culture, has always struck me to be a dead end street. Once again, the story at the heart of Christmas resonates with the yearning for simplicity — Jesus is born in a stable with poor shepherds as his first visitors, and thereÂ in the midst ofÂ such simplicity is foundÂ great joy.Â Â But our nationâ€™s economy seems to require that at this time of year we all run up the credit cards to get more and more stuff.Â Â As a parent I have felt the pressure to make sure there is lots of stuff under the tree for my kids simply because every other kid in middle class America will find plenty of presents under the tree, and I donâ€™t want them to feel neglected.Â I watch as the stuff gets unwrapped and generally speaking, within a short time it is discarded.Â And so as I succumb to the materialistic frenzy, I end up feeling like Iâ€™ve become disconnected from some of my core values, which for me is a pretty lost feeling.
3) Christmas oftenÂ ends up feelingÂ like a long check-off list ofÂ tasks to get done — that if I donâ€™t getÂ these tasksÂ done I am some sort of social malcontent (which I probably am.)Â This means pressure. Christmas eve ends up feeling like a finish line through which to collapse exhausted.
4) There is another level of pressure that I feel as â€œpastor.â€Â I am aware that it is my role in the community to remind everybody â€œof the true meaning of Christmasâ€ — to provide spiritual experiences. This responsibility can feel weighty indeed.
5) Finally, Â the truest and most personal level of my discontent is probably this: Â I have a a shortage of good and happy memories to draw upon that are associated with this time of year. My family of origin wasnâ€™t especially close, and we didnâ€™t have cousins and uncles and aunts and grandparents who came together at Christmas to shower love. Â My parents got divorced when I was going into 7th grade, and thereafter Christmas
became a time that accentuated the absence of the family intimacy and harmony that others seemed to so enjoy (though I realize that often times those families had their own dark side, hidden from view.) Â
Consequently, I have a long history of negative associations to counteract at this time of year.Â If I did have all those happy childhood Christmas memories of shared family love, I would probably not mind at all the shopping — the long â€œto doâ€ lists. In fact, I suspect, IÂ would find themÂ enjoyable.
But, as I said as I began this post, today is Black Friday and Iâ€™m feeling okay.Â My life truly is showered with love, though often I have missed it.
And maybe along with those many other persons who begrudge the coming of this time of year, we can give one another a bit of encouragement and creep up to the manger together to peer into the face of the light that has come into the world.
Come, Lord Jesus.