It happened last week. I was sitting at home on an otherwise quiet day. Everything was mostly fine, and I, the unsuspecting person, wasn’t prepared for what was about to happen. A new and outlandish thought popped into my head: I hate Christmas.
Even writing that now seems weird. Was it really me who had that thought? Yes. As much as it pains me to admit it, I had the very real thought of hating Christmas this year. Multiple times.
Now I’m not saying I dislike what Christmas means, or am bothered by other people enjoying it to the full, as I hope people do. But I’m discovering that this season of celebration can be especially difficult when you’re feeling a whole lot less than merry and bright.
When we went to Nepal, I got quite sick. Not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. The parasite I had is known to cause anxiety and depression, and combining that with the stressful situation there and getting re-adjusted to life in America has not been pretty. And when life around you is filled with parties you just can’t find the energy to attend and festivity that you think should make you happy but doesn’t, Christmas becomes a foil to display your struggles more prominently.
Yesterday, one of my relatives shared a post encouraging those who had “life happen” this year. In her post, she shared a reminder that the first Christmas involved a few people far from home with nothing to show except their trust in God. For someone who’s felt disconnected to everything Christmas this year, that struck a chord with me. I went back to the story of the first Christmas, which I hadn’t really thought about in a long time, and began to ponder it some. And in doing so, I discovered the Christmas story for someone like me going through hard things.
The First Christmas Didn’t Feel Like Christmas
To be honest, it’s hard to relate to the story of Mary and Joseph’s travels when you’re sitting in a cozy living room stuffed with cookies and surrounded by a pile of presents. When hardship is miles away from you, the story of Christ’s birth becomes one of those traditions you listen to for a few minutes a year and then promptly forget about in the fog of busy December. But when you’re feeling down and or like everything is different, you begin to see some familiar themes that you can relate to.
Mary and Joseph weren’t the golden couple of Nazareth.
In fact, they were probably the center of the town’s gossip. In the time when Christ was born, to be pregnant outside of marriage was not only a scandal, but something worthy of capital punishment. Mary knew she was putting her life in danger and making herself an outcast by agreeing to have Jesus. When Joseph decided to not break off the relationship he knew he was signing up to be at the center of controversy.
If you’re someone like me who has ever felt like you’re living under a microscope and having every decision questioned, or feel shut out and not accepted, or have been at the center of gossip, take heart. Jesus’s parents weren’t perfect, well-loved people. They were outcasts dealing with drama and experiencing all those feelings too as they followed what they knew was right.
The first Christmas was tough.
Mary and Joseph were far from home. There were no trees or lights or presents (the wise men probably didn’t arrive until a year later). There were no family or friends to wish Mary and Joseph well (if they still had friends and family who wanted to speak to them). There was nobody to help them or give them encouragement as they faced such a major life change as having a child. Their journey together might have been awkward—dating and marrying your best friend wasn’t the norm back then, and Mary and Joseph may not have really known each other as they began their journey. Not to mention that after the birth they would have to run away to a foreign country because the king wanted to kill their new son.
I don’t think anyone would describe these circumstances as the ideal Christmas. We picture Christmas as this golden time where everything falls together in perfect joy and synchronization. We can see it through almost a fairy-tale lens of childhood memories and laughter. So when things change and “life happens” and Christmas is less than magical, it can hit hard.
As someone who’s going through some tough things and big changes this Christmas, it helps me to remember that the first Christmas—the most important one—was no rosy fairy tale. Rather, it was a grueling, rough time of change. But it was during that time that joy was found, not the joy of having the best presents or party, but the joy of finding a ray of hope in the darkness.
The first Christmas was hopeful.
It was in a smelly cave where two uncertain people were journeying that God appeared in the flesh. It was in the midst of darkness and loneliness that God first showed his face. It was on that first difficult Christmas that hope truly appeared.
Perhaps this Christmas doesn’t feel like Christmas to you. Maybe you’ve moved to a new place that doesn’t feel like home yet. Or you’re working in a police station or emergency room while your family is celebrating together. Maybe a family member passed away this year and this will be the first Christmas without them. Perhaps you will spend your Christmas in a hospital visiting a loved one, or you yourself are too sick to fully enjoy this time of year like you’d want to.
Whatever it is, you are not alone. If you’re facing challenging times, then Christmas is for you. It doesn’t have to look like it did before. You don’t have to scramble to get your act together by the 25th because life happened to you. Christmas isn’t so much about conjuring a certain mood or atmosphere or keeping alive a tradition as it is about embracing hope in our darkest times, and knowing that even in the wild turns of life, we might find a sliver of Light.