Pondering a Christmas paradox

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Have times changed or what? Christmas is supposed to be a joyful occasion, so why do so many feel exhausted and express relief that it's all over?

All holiday celebrations require an adjustment in your schedule or at least add extra jobs and activities to your life. There's little wonder people are often overwhelmed, rushed and even in dread of festivities. When you have an already overloaded agenda filled with things to do, any additional demands can cause you to reach your limit.

Families feel they must get together. Parents feel deprived when children eventually stop the annual visit home on Christmas morning. There's no reason to feel hurt when changes must be made. Things can't always remain as they have always been. If they do, someone suffers while trying to please everyone else -- pretending they enjoy the event.

I watched my children over the holidays this year. One was unable to come home because he had just arrived home from Iraq and had to greet other incoming soldiers. His family spent Christmas with each other, and although they said they missed being home, they enjoyed planning their own celebration.

As I've watched my children pack their vans full of gifts to head home or to another relative's, I've felt sympathetic. They looked exhausted but smiled through it all. Although they've always enjoyed coming home and meeting with friends and seldom-seen family members, I wondered if it was really worth it all. When everyone comes over, there's laughter and reminiscing. But it entails a lot of work -- Christmas gifts to be bought and wrapped, cooking to be done, cards to be sent and often parties to attend.

Is this what God intended? What I really wanted to do was attend some of the beautiful Christian services that were held and visit with people I cared about. It's the camaraderie and sharing that's important.

I talked with a gentleman who said only one of his children was able to be home for Christmas and that son lived in town. The others lived too far away and were establishing their own family traditions. Although he and his wife missed them, they were pleased at the endeavor. Rather than meeting at Christmas the family always met during the summer. Then the climate of the whole reunion was more relaxed and enjoyable. What a great idea.

Christmas indeed is a paradox. Mary and Joseph brought Jesus into the world through indescribable hardship. But through all the suffering, cold and darkness, wonderful joy was the result. The three kings came bearing gifts from afar. Not a lot of gifts, Scripture says, gifts to show homage to the baby -- gold, frankincense and myrrh. Nowadays we ask people what they want and try to please. What's wrong with giving someone a gift from the heart, one that merely says, "I love you"?

Many become depressed during the holidays. Loneliness, shortage of funds and unreal expectations are a few of the causes. One man committed suicide because he received no gifts. He didn't realize he had always received the best gift of all -- the gift of Jesus.

Christmas is still a time when families attempt to communicate, mend past wounds and hope for a brighter tomorrow -- one promised by Jesus' birth. Let's relearn how to truly enjoy the season. Appreciate the birth of Jesus. It is a gift that is free to everyone. It lasts forever.

Ellen Shuck holds degrees in psychology, religious education and spiritual direction and provides spiritual direction to people at her office.

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