Christians hating Christmas
"Have a Merry Christmas, Molly," I concluded a counselling session with a Christian client in late December several years ago. But instead of returned good wishes, I was taken aback to hear, "I hate Christmas! I wish I could go to sleep on December 20 and not wake up until it's all over."
Since then I've encountered Molly's (a composite of several clients) sentiment more often. She is not alone; many people, some Christians among them, dread the season of peace and good will. Some are cynically disillusioned by the annual shopping frenzy, the greedy materialism, and the social and financial tensions that create only anxiety and ill will. They're appalled at how far these activities have swept us from the original reason for the celebration and their consciences won't let them participate.
Others, like Molly, grew up in families that bore not even the remotest resemblance to the ubiquitous warm and fuzzy commercials featuring loving families opening gifts by the tree on Christmas Eve. Like Molly, their experience of family involved members who should have been trustworthy, whose acts of betrayal stripped the concepts of family and Christmas of all rightful meaning and left them emotionally and spiritually bereft.
But now Molly has found her own way to celebrate Christmas, a way that allows her to honour her emotional pain and also experience the spiritual solace of the coming of Christ into the world. She participates in the Longest Night service offered by a local church on December 21 or 22. Then she quietly handles the cleanup after the refreshment time, releasing other volunteers to go home to their families to enjoy the kind of family sharing and goodwill that she longs for but has never known.
The Longest Night worship service appeals to people who are sad in the Christmas season, perhaps grieving the loss of a loved one and recognizing that Christmas will be forever different without that special person. It also appeals to depressed individuals whose symptoms often worsen with the diminishing of daylight and the waning of the year. The soft music, gentle focus on Jesus as the light of the world, and respectful preaching that points to hope while acknowledging the darkness, offers an alternative way to celebrate the birth of Christ, a way that demands nothing of participants if merely being present is all they can manage.
Molly has also chosen to volunteer at other church events during the Christmas season, her way of participating while still hiding herself in the work she performs. She summons what little energy the illness of depression allows her and gives what she can to other people. Little does she know how Christ-like she is, serving others sacrificially and deriving her peace from the love she gives, not from the gifts she likely won't receive anyway.
Molly has returned to counselling recently, ready to take another step toward recovery and healing from the past. And this year I intend to wish her a blessed Christmas, to reflect what she has chosen to make of the season.
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