I think one of the feelings that drives our celebrations of Christmas is a sense of the winter blues. We search for light in a world where the sun has gone south for the winter. We acknowledge our need for peace, hope, joy and love. Sometimes, these are not to be found.
Occasionally something happens that makes it seem impossible that we will ever find peace, hope, joy and love. Sometimes we are burdened with tasks that seem overwhelming. Sometimes we are sick. Sometimes we are alone. We wonder if there is enough love, peace, hope and joy to heal our hurts.
Sometimes, we remember our childhood when Christmas was a time for the adults to get drunk, fight, cry and abandon us. We remember Christmas as an excuse for our parents to fight over which one we spent the holiday with. Sometimes, we remember the effects of poverty on our celebrations. We remember returning to school to see the toys and new clothes of our classmates knowing that the only present we received was a pair of socks, if that. Christmas has also been a time of spiritual abuse, with threats of hell if the young child asked questions, or not being allowed to receive gifts because of the parent’s beliefs.
This year, we arrive at the third Sunday in Advent, aware of the hurts of the past and grieving for the tragedies of the present. We face the prospect of a not so merry Christmas when we cannot help but grieve with those who have lost a loved one this year. Where can we find peace, hope, joy and love?
So where does this leave us now? Is it some cruel twist of custom that tells us to be peaceful, joyful, hopeful or loving when we feel none of those things? I am inclined to believe that our great ancestors had more wisdom than we give them credit for. Christmas is not exclusively a Christian celebration. Many traditions and peoples have held celebrations around the winter solstice. Could it be that these ancient people recognize our need to feast and be joyful during the time when sickness is most likely to creep in at the door, when death lurks on the threshold? I think so.
We have come to learn that laughter is healing. We have learned that our spices used in our feasts are healing. We know that looking into the eyes of those we love gives us new strength. Singing opens our hearts and lungs bringing oxygen into the whole body and releases the neurotransmitters that make us feel happy and healthy. Perhaps people who did not have the words to speak as we do about healing sensed the healing aspects of celebration.
I am well enough acquainted with tragedy and suffering during Christmas that I am not going to tell anybody that you will automatically feel peace, hope, joy, and love if you just laugh or sing or do whatever is considered right. Sometimes life hurts beyond our imagining. Yet, I find that over the years, I have found peace. I am often joyful. Most of the time I can hope for a pleasant future. I usually recognize that I am loved.
I think I have been able to heal from my hurts by following the ancient wisdom of celebrating when the world seems darkest. I never consider the process of taking one step forward and decorating the tree, and another step and hanging our stockings, and another step, as something sweet and joyful. Often celebrating in the face of tragedy is an act of courage. For me, it is an act that gives me strength. I seem to find strength in the ancient wisdom. That wisdom calls me to stand up, move forward, and with my subdued celebrations, give The Finger to grief and tragedy.