It feels hard to get into the Christmas spirit this year. It did last year too. In fact I’m starting to think that unless you are a small child, getting into the Christmas spirit is not an easy thing to do, and that it only gets harder with time. This year seems especially dark. In my own circle of friends, family and acquaintances, I can’t even count the number of losses and other tragedies that people are going through in this season.
I know many people who have lost a parent or even a child during the past year. A friend on FaceBook is watching his father die; another came home on Christmas Eve to find that his wife had left him, taking their children with her; a cousin who suffers from PTSD from years of service as an EMT first responder may face jail time because he waved a gun in the air at someone trying to cut him off on the freeway; and only two days ago parents of a young woman with our daughter’s genetic condition lost her to seizures and other complications. I can’t even imagine how that family is going to get through today.
I do remember our own terrible Christmas, only two months after we had lost our baby son at 39 weeks, one week before he was due, to a cord accident. I felt smashed into a million pieces, barely even present, held together only by the people around me. The thing is though, it wasn’t a terrible Christmas. We spent it at my sister’s B&B in Minnesota, our whole family, and it was actually a fun time. It was the year my husband wrote The Rules of Christmas and to this day I am astounded that he had both the presence of mind and the good humor to write it. But he did, and I somehow had the presence of mind and good humor to find it hilarious. I still look back at that Christmas with happy memories. It was a bright spot in a very dark time.
And I kind of think that’s what Christmas is about. Whether you celebrate it as a Christian or as a pagan (I’ll leave other traditions to those more familiar with them), what we are celebrating is not the fact that we have perfect lives in a flawless world and we couldn’t ask for more. What we are celebrating is the bits of light, wherever they are and however small, in a world that we know is filled with much darkness. For Christians, that “light” is the birth of Jesus and the promise of eternal salvation. But as an outsider looking in, I also believe that it is the promise of achieving the kingdom of heaven here on earth and in that sense is not so far removed from the pagan celebration of light in the material world.
Maybe, as we become adults, and as we become more intensely aware of the suffering, the loss, and the evil in the world, it does become harder to celebrate Christmas. That doesn’t make it less important to celebrate it though. It makes it more important. One of the only ways we have to fight the darkness is to recognize the light, celebrate it, and do what we can to encourage it. The light may come in the form of a massive sunburst or it may be a tiny pinpoint. This morning, for me, it was the video of another young girl with our daughter’s condition, defying the predictions of experts from long ago and reading aloud from a book.
The relentless brutality of the world isn’t going to stop for our celebrations, yet we still celebrate. That’s the whole point.