Before I get to the real message of this post and explain what’s gone MISSING, I would like to say something about past posts. If you have been following my blog, you know that I have written two recent posts about the holidays. While I was writing about Christmas from two different moments in my life, together they serve as a reflection of what it is like living with depression. Many found the first post to be particularly sad and offered words of encouragement. After the second post, people were glad to see that I had recovered my holiday spirit and sense of humor.
While it was nice to receive the words of encouragement, I also need to explain something. Those of you who suffer with depression will already know this. Just because the sadness of the first post wasn’t there in the second, it doesn’t mean the feelings of the first are gone for good. Those two posts can live in me on the same day. The feelings can come and go seemingly at random times, and I’m not sure which one I will face from day to day. With meds, therapy, and some of the tools I’ve amassed through the therapy and vast reading, I am more in control of how long I’m in the depths than I once was. But they still come.
After saying that, I want to tell you that those reflections are not what this post is about. Rather, what I wanted to talk about today was part of the reason I think that so many people have trouble celebrating Christmas without depression, sadness, feelings of failure, and all of the other emotional problems that besiege people at this time of year. It is because part of Christmas has gone missing.
I have noticed that missing element in many ways. But radio, television, magazines, stores, and people all seem to be all Christmasy without noticing the big gaping hole!
I saw several shows and articles where people were asked what Christmas is all about. Their answers were sweet and often nostalgic. Many people answered that the holidays are about family and love. They talked of gathering with relatives they hadn’t seen for awhile and the joyful memories of times growing up with the beautiful traditions, decorations, and music. Quite lovely. But no mention of the birth of Jesus.
We have two local radio stations who each claim to be THE Christmas station. They play nonstop holiday music through November and December. I listened to them and enjoyed the songs. I sang along and switched back and forth between them when those songs I dislike came on. But two months of music that is supposedly all about Christmas yielded not one single mention of the birth of Jesus while I was listening. No Silent Night. No Joy to the World. Lots of Santa, snow, bells, and snowmen, but Jesus wasn’t invited to the party.
Christmas has become a mad dash of activity and stress. We make up wish lists and to-do lists. We shop and shop to make sure that everyone has the perfect present under the tree. We decorate our homes inside and out. We go to Christmas parties. We bake cookies, wrap all the gifts, and make plans for travel and meals.
If we have a slow evening, we watch the movies. Hallmark offers 24/7 Christmas from Halloween on! We can quote from our favorites: “Look, Daddy, teacher says every time a bell rings an angel gets its wings.” (It’s a Wonderful Life), “You sit on a throne of lies!” (Elf), “Fra-gee-lay. It must be Italian” or “You’ll shoot your eye out.” (The Christmas Story) or “Who gave you permission to tell Charlie there was no Santa Claus? I think if we’re going to destroy our son’s delusions, I should be a part of it.” (The Santa Clause). We sing along to White Christmas. If we’re old-school, we read A Christmas Carol and witness Scrooge’s transformation after the visitation from the spirits. Or more likely, we watch Patrick Stewart, George C. Scott, Albert Finney, Mickey Mouse, Tim Curry (at least in voice), Michael Caine and the Muppets, or Bill Murray do some variation on the story. Notice what’s missing in all of our Christmas movies? Yep, the birth of Jesus. Even in the one with an angel, Clarence only talks to “Joseph” who is his angel boss…no mention of Jesus.
Don’t get me wrong. I love reading A Christmas Carol. It wouldn’t seem much like Christmas if I didn’t see It’s a Wonderful Life and White Christmas. (What can I say? I’m old school.) I have a ball getting silly and singing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and “Jingle Bells” with my grand daughter. I still drive around pointing and exhorting everyone in the car “Oh, look at that house” as I see the lights. All of that is fun and part of my traditional celebration, but I need the holy music, the services, and the real reason for the season.
Last night I attended a program that has become a cherished tradition for me. Friends Heidi and Doug Curry started a yearly evening of “Lessons and Carols with Friends” in 2011 thinking it would be a gathering of friends in their home. It never happened in their home because of the number of people who wanted to come. Instead they have found churches where they can host the event. I’m not even sure how many of these I’ve attended, but I know how much I love them!
It is an evening of scripture readings and carols in the style of the program that is a tradition at King’s College in Cambridge, UK. There is a soup supper before and cookies after, but the “main course” is the feeding of the spirit through the service. It is a quiet reflection on the Old Testament Biblical prophesies of the Messiah and the New Testament accounts of the birth of Jesus. The congregation sings some of the lovely old hymns we grew up with—“Oh, Come All Ye Faithful,” “Away in a Manger,” “Silent Night” and “Joy to the World” (which is celebrating its 300th birthday this year). People volunteer to be the choir and the readers. They get together for an hour or so just before the program to rehearse the music together. And you wouldn’t believe the beauty of the music that choir offers up each year. Last night I was thrilled and got a chill as they sang “Noel” and “All is Well” among others.
There was no Santa, no jingle bells, no snow or snowmen at the service. What was there is the real reason for the season along with a chance to slow down and reflect, and a chance to refocus and reprioritize what Christmas should be. I came away from the evening with a sense of peace and serenity that calmed my soul and offered hope. I am still smiling this morning as I think about the lessons read, the carols sung, the fellowship felt, and the real reason for the season.
Merry Christmas everyone. And a big thank you to Heidi and Doug for the effort, work, and true love they offer up to anyone who wants to walk in and sit down. You bless us with this gift year after year.