Perversely, while everyone else sinks into the ‘January blues’ I’m smiling with relief that we’re as far away from Christmas as possible.
Bah humbug? No, I hope not. Fingers crossed I’m not becoming one of those negative people whose opt-out tendencies mar the celebrations of others. Nevertheless, the closer Christmas came, the worse I felt.
In an effort to define and conquer, I tried to work out why on earth I find Christmas so hard.
Firstly, Christmas exacerbates loneliness. The bombardment of uber-happy families on TV and Facebook made me miserable. It was irritating that marriage and homeownership seemed to be the prerequisite for festive hospitality and that others’ in-laws and children trumped alternatives. I awkwardly morphed into a cross between my parents’ quasi-teenage appendage and that ageing ill-fitting relative who has to be accommodated somewhere. Not ideal.
Secondly, Christmas fuels consumerism. In December, the frantic, in-your-face pressure to buy cheaply and in excess is notched up. Truth and contentment are extra obscured by the lie that owning stuff will fix us and that enough is not actually enough. Hate it.
And, thirdly, Christmas feels so fake. The heightened expectation of this being the most wonderful time of the year simply doesn’t ring true. The little town of Bethlehem isn’t lying still. There’s no peace on earth. Not all faithful friends who are dear to us will be near to us once more. The memories of Christmases long, long ago exacerbate aching absences. My family doesn’t rock around the Christmas tree. The whole thing just plasters over a broken reality which is particularly depressing and ironic given its original message of incarnation, Emmanuel, reconciliation and hope.
What would Jesus do? I’m guessing he would’ve sworn less and been more gracious to that woman in HMV. He wouldn’t have burst into tears on the tube or been as tempted as I was to run away to the Muslim world. He’d have probably relaxed more. My housemates and I tried to tread the same path, hoping to cancel out loneliness with community, consumerism with creativity and generosity, and fakeness with truth and authenticity.
We strung up lovingly-made paper bunting, baked a billion cheese straws, put on dresses and threw a party. We hosted a Christmas dinner, invited new friends to carol services, and had a leisurely cup of tea with the Streetbank neighbours whose chairs we’d borrowed. I chose fun times with friends over hiding until it was over, listened with pride to my goddaughter’s solo, and gratefully received advent emails to up my grace quota. I even had a transcendental moment of peace when singing Hark the Herald at church, albeit a disappointingly truncated new-fangled version.
Yes, I got through Christmas but, as we head into this new year, I have a sneaky suspicion that the battle for our hearts and minds isn’t over yet. Perhaps the loneliness, consumerism and general paradoxes of life will be less acute than they were at Christmas, but they will undoubtedly be there in 2014.
I went on the offensive in December and although it sort of worked, it wore me out. I may have survived, but I didn’t thrive. It was with relief that I listened to a new year’s sermon which reminded me again that His grace is sufficient. His power is made perfect in weakness: that’s what I forgot as I braced myself for the Christmas onslaught. And that’s what I’m resolving to remember as I pick myself up, dust myself down, and start all over again.