For some of us, this is our favorite time of year. For others, family centric holidays feel like cruel reminders of loss, misfortune, and tragedy. Happy songs chime in the shops and on radio stations. People talk about their favorite Christmas songs and carols. Yet, some of us would rather hide our heads from the reminders of hard times. We find ourselves more comfortable with the raw edginess of the Pogues Fairytale of New York. Unsurprisingly, this is one of the most played songs during the Christmas season, which perhaps gives evidence to the fact that Christmas is a raw day for many people. Over the years, I have discovered a few ways to navigate this season successfully and with a good degree of excitement despite an often overwhelming sense of dread.*
- Create new rituals around the holidays that emphasize things you can still enjoy. When Christmas became a lonely holilday with shadows of trauma that haunted me like the Ghost of Christmas Past, I established a new rhythm for the season. I celebrated the Winter Solstice––the shortest, darkest day of the year. I gathered with friends that night. We told stories, sang songs, and shared our favorite meads together.
- Find a way to serve and replace your expectations of receiving. This is one of the most powerful ways to transform unfulfilled expectations. When we work to fill the needs of others, we step outside the traps inherent to a self-focused high-expectation life. Food Banks, and churches offering meals for families without the resources to buy them are just a couple examples of service oriented activity during the Christmas season.
- Find a new circle of friends who understand your situation. It’s okay to share how you feel about the season. Instead of being a party pooper, you will discover that you are not alone in feeling the way you do. You are likely that you will find that people already in your life struggle just like you do.
- Poke fun of the things you dislike about most about a self-focused holiday. A little light-hearted self-deprication goes a long way in changing one’s focus in tension filled moments. I did this by writing a Christmas song about selfish expectations of receiving things I want for Christmas. (link)
Rebuilding life after loss, tragedy or misfortune may require some of the hard work of self-evaluation and adjustment. This is what the Jesus and the writers of the Bible called repentance. But once this self-adjustment has begun, there remains the hard work of remaking life and creating new patterns of life and new circles of friendships who offer life and hope in the middle of life’s tragedies.
*It should be noted, that when you look like Santa, it’s not wise to be grumpy around Christmas. That will certainly make your neighbor’s children cry.