Not everybody enters the Christmas season singing “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” For some it is never a happy time, and for others it is supposed to be a happy time, but doesn’t always work out that way.
When my EC and I were newlyweds, we spent our first Christmas making the trek from BYU home to Arizona. Both sets of parents lived here in the Valley, but they lived about 45 minutes apart. We did our very best to spend equal time with each side of the family. We attended the formal get togethers, and tried our best to participate in all the activities we could. Yet somehow we failed.
What I remember of that first Christmas as a couple was that we spent a huge portion of our holiday break constantly driving back and forth from Scottsdale to Chandler. Unfortunately, when it came time to head back to Provo, neither set of parents were happy. Both sides felt we had not balanced our time well, and felt cheated – despite what we thought had been a valiant effort on our part. They were disappointed. We were mad/sad at how it worked out and what should have been a joyous week, well, it sucked.
Sometimes people go into the holiday season and things get in the way to make it less joyous. Things happen, people happen and life happens – and the wonder of the season can swirl down the drain.
For others, the holidays are a tender time that brings sadness or even pain. Longing for departed or absent loved ones, loneliness, dealing with separation or fractured families, or even health woes can make it a difficult season. Christmas is supposed to be about families, right? But the reality is, Christmas can be a stark reminder that not everyone has the family situation that can fulfill that assumption.
Some people are simply pre-transition Grinches. They just don’t like Christmas. Either they are dealing with post-traumatic BB gun experiences from their childhoods, or their hearts are just three sizes too small – they just don’t like Christmas and all it’s trappings. Often, they are very vocal about their gripes. You can’t throw an elf across the room without hitting someone who is an Anti-Santa-ite, or see the whole endeavor as a waste of time.
Finally, there are some who are burdened by the Season. Christmas has the potential to engender feelings of inadequacy. People can feel bad for not baking, buying or decorating to the level that they would have liked. Worse yet, some feel bad that they haven’t been able to keep up with all the clever, crafty people who make their own Christmas wrapping paper out of wood pulp and used tinsel, and use it to wrap the jars of homemade cranberry sauce from the berries that they grew in their own hydroponic gardens. News Flash: Not everyone is Martha Stewart (less the jail time). Sadly, some feel terrible because they see themselves as inadequate because they can’t do it all. This is not merely a Christmastime condition, it can flare up all year, but it can make for an especially insecure Christmas.
Here are a few thoughts to counter the dark days of Christmas and to help find some joy in the holiday:
Focus on Gratitude. If our hearts are full to the brim with gratitude, there is little room left for feelings of sadness, anger, insecurity or Scrooginess. I think it is no coincidence that Thanksgiving comes before we dive into the Christmas season. Something as simple as making a Gratitude List can push us in that direction. The Brethren have had plenty to say about the beauty, and necessity, of gratitude. (Click here and pick one.)
Don’t Keep Score. One way to wreck a holiday, or a relationship, is to keep score. When we keep track of who does or gives more, we are just setting ourselves up for failure and disappointment. This is what happened when we were newlyweds. I have tried to learn from that experience and just be grateful (there it is again) for what I do receive, and the time I do get to spend with my loved ones. One of the core tenants of life that we seem to struggle with is that life is simply not fair. Keeping score implies that somehow it is, or should be. It isn’t – nor is it intended to be. Let it go.
Simplify. If the joy is sucked out of the holiday from being overwhelmed by how much there is to do, don’t do so much. Sounds easy enough, right? It’s not. I am a firm traditionalist. I find happiness and security in having the same Christmas traditions year after year. The realty is that some years there just isn’t time to do it all. Maybe because of health issues, work issues, money issues, etc. Every traditional treat doesn’t have to be baked. Every activity does not have to be attended. Every decoration does not have to be hung. It is OK – Christmas will still come, even if there are still unopened boxes of decorations. The expression “Christmas trappings” is curious, indeed.
Don’t compare. It does not matter that Sister Smith delivered homemade apple spice mini bundt cakes to all the neighbors the first weekend after Thanksgiving. There are no laws that require every family to hire a professional photographer and send out glorious Christmas cards. Social media has raised comparison and insecurity to an art form. Feeling too good about yourself? Spend an hour on Pinterest – that should take care of it. Do what you feel you can do, and do what you want to do – don’t worry about what everyone else is doing.
Believe in Gift of Agency. One of the single most difficult concepts taught in the Church is that we feel how we choose to feel. I don’t know if it something that a lot of us just refuse to believe, or if it is just because it is so stinking difficult. The concept is simply this: If we are sad, or mad, or insecure, or lonely, etc., it is because we choose to be that way. Nobody can make us mad. The idea that someone can make us feel any certain way is one of the great fallacies of our day. Nobody can make us sad. Simply put, to believe someone has the power to take over our emotions means the have the ability to commandeer our agency. Yet, the phrase, “He makes me so mad.” is all too common, and it is a lie. The very best way to dig into this difficult truth is by studying Elder Bednar’s talk “And Nothing Shall Offend Them.”
Focus on Love. When we focus on love, we are more patient, forgiving and tolerant. We are less likely to be critical – of ourselves and others.
“And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” (Moroni 7:45)
By the way, charity is a gift. God gives it to us through the Holy Ghost – all we have to do is ask.
“Wherefore, my beloved brethren (sisters too!), pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love...” (Moroni 7:48)
Focusing on love during the Christmas season should be a no-brainer, but life an people can get in the way. We should focus on the Savior and his love every day of the year, but it can be especially valuable during a season that can be fraught with tender feelings of pain, insecurity, loneliness and disappointment. Christ can take those feelings from us as a a personal gift to us.
One year President Hinckley concluded his Christmas remarks with this idea. He said:
May it be a happy and wonderful season. We leave a blessing upon you, a blessing of Christmas, that you may be happy. May even those whose hearts are heavy rise with the healing which comes alone from Him who comforts and reassures. “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me”
So said He in His hour of great tribulation: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid”
In the spirit of that great promise and gift, may we all rejoice this blessed Christmas season. (link)
Share Happiness. I found a fascinating quote from Brigham Young that I think fits nicely in the holiday season:
In all your social communications, or whatever your associations are, let all the dark, discontented, murmuring, unhappy, miserable feelings—all the evil fruit of the mind, fall from the tree in silence and unnoticed; and so let it perish, without taking it up to present to your neighbors. But when you have joy and happiness, light and intelligence, truth and virtue, offer that fruit abundantly to your neighbors, and it will do them good, and so strengthen the hands of your fellow-beings (DBY, 240).
I can’t think of a better Christmas gift we can give to our families and those we associate with than a peaceful, happy version of ourselves. Joy is attainable, and it is fiercely contagious.