I struggle with Christmas. There, I’ve said it.
I know I’m not the only one. There are many reasons people just can’t wait for Christmas to be over: loss of loved ones, family dysfunction, loneliness, poverty; the list goes on.
People often find it strange, though, that I’m a bit of a Grinch, given that I profess to be a Christian. A serious one. You know, the happy-clappy type.
And no, it’s not that I turn up my nose at the commercialisation of Christmas and the distancing of the holiday from the ‘reason for the season.’
While the shopping frenzy does overwhelm me somewhat, I don’t expect non-Christians to value the ‘Christ’ in ‘Christmas.’ It’s enough for me that Christ’s name is attached to a period most people associate with community, generosity and rest, three very Christ-ly attributes.
So what’s my problem with Christmas? To be honest, I’m not entirely sure.
It could be that, as an only child whose parents divorced early, I never really experienced the typical Christmas throng that most kids do.
Or it could be that, as an Aussie who has travelled abroad at many a Christmas, the disconnect between the snug, snowy Anglo tropes and the sandy, salty, stone-fruited Aussie summer is too pronounced.
But if I’m honest, it probably has more to do with the fact that I feel oddly disconnected from Jesus at this time. I feel the same at Easter, like I should be experiencing something profound on these solemn occasions, the key celebrations of modern Christendom. But I generally don’t.
While I have enjoyed countless perfectly lovely family lunches and Christmas services, I can count my poignantly meaningful Christmas moments on one hand:
- a spontaneous acapella singalong of ancient carols with friends late one night, cross-legged on the floor of a darkened room with tea;
- belting out my favourite hard-hitting carol – Cantique de Noël – in French, alone in my car on the way to my favourite beach;
- devouring a ridiculously indulgent brownie sundae for breakfast with my new husband on our honeymoon in Hawaii;
- cocktails, choccie and crudités with my Mum on the couch during a Gilmore Girls marathon after a really shit year;
- eating turkey, brie and cranberry sandwiches from Woolies with my Dad in a hotel room overlooking the Tassie coastline.
What these moments all have in common is a sense of stripped back, spontaneous, down to earth connection – with God himself and/or the most special people in my life.
But I still find it hard to find Jesus in Christmas.
I know some Christians find the emphasis on the sweet, harmless ‘baby Jesus’ frustrating or bizarre. And others dislike the generalisation and lack of concrete theology in messages of ‘peace and joy.’
I think for me it’s just weird to feel the need to focus my reflection on the incarnation when this is something that I do regularly throughout the year, only in a much more personal way.
The analogy that comes to mind is this: Recently I attended the wedding of a dear school friend, whose now husband I like but am yet to know well. Hearing the heartfelt, engaging speeches from their relatives and bridal party, I connected with one or two facts about them and their relationship, chuckled at a inside joke here, got the warm and fuzzies there. Felt a sense of appreciation for their connection and commitment. But it just wasn’t the same as hanging out in person.
This is kind of how I feel about Jesus at Christmastime. Like I’m hearing a somewhat distant, third person account about someone I know well, but in a completely different, more formal context, when I’d feel much more at ease one-to-one over a cuppa.
So all I can really do at Christmas is try to find a quiet moment to reflect and rediscover my own, well-worn connection with Jesus in this odd and overwhelming season. And major in the things I enjoy most at this time of year: a simple, quiet meal with my loved ones, a swim in the sea, and one too many mince pies.