Too much running around to make "The Perfect Christmas" can leave you feeling alone and blue. To combat this: Be kind to yourself. Relax. Pray. Hal Brown photo
Too much running around to make "The Perfect Christmas" can leave you feeling alone and blue. To combat this: Be kind to yourself. Relax. Pray. Hal Brown photo
" We can lift ourselves out of ourselves when we prepare with ardor and devotion. This can help to get us out of just thinking about our own loneliness, hurt or situation – even if things are far from perfect in our own lives. "

Mittened hands clutch cups of hot cocoa, Christmas carols are on every dial and the smell of gingerbread is in the air.

But instead of excited happiness at every turn, you see only your difficulties and losses. It seems God thinks you’re stronger than you really are, because you just don’t know how much more you can take. Maybe, you wonder, life is asking more than you can give.

“The reason why so many feel so forlorn and blue at this time of year is essentially because we put the wrong emphasis on holidays, during which so many seem to be happy,” says Father Pasquale Papalia, pastor in St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, Whiting. 

“Ask any child who is well-provided with presents. The joy on this level is short-lived. Perhaps a return could be made to enshrine the central mystery of Christmas in a Lent-like preparation in which no matter what has happened in our lives, as Christians, we look with great anticipation to the proclamation that ‘the Word has become flesh and dwelt among us.’”

That falls in line with what spiritual director Teresa Knipper advises her directees and retreatants.

“Lower your expectation of ‘The Perfect Christmas,’ and spend time in gratitude for what God is giving you – even if that is grief and hardship,” said Knipper, of St. Paul Parish, Princeton. “Our loving, provident God often comes to us in those difficult times when we are keenly aware of our dependence on God. I love these words from the singer Leonard Cohen, from his song ‘Anthem’:

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack, a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.

Often, she said, the sadness in that crack is where the light of God comes in.

Looking Beyond Yourself

Father Papalia believes it’s the little things that can let the Light of God in our hearts – something as simple as lighting an Advent wreath every night of the preparatory season or performing acts of charity.

“We can lift ourselves out of ourselves when we prepare with ardor and devotion,” he said. “This can help to get us out of just thinking about our own loneliness, hurt or situation – even if things are far from perfect in our own lives.”

He continued, “How wonderful it would be that after an Advent of prayer and even fasting joined with charitable acts, we could approach Christmas Eve the way many very old Christian cultures do, vigiling with that sense of holy excitement as a family or a group of friends gathered to seek ‘the first star of Christmas’ in the Dec. 24 night sky. Perhaps we could greet each other the way Eastern Christians do, it gets to the point: ‘Christ is Born,’ the response being, ‘Glorify Him!’” 

Indeed, the wonder of Christmas, said Knipper, is not the bright lights and gifts. “It is the fact that we embrace a God who is incarnate among us. The one who came to feel emotions – including loss, grief and sadness – as well as joy and comfort.

“The miracle is that God is with us – the literal meaning of Emmanuel – in all of it and longs for our presence with him,” she said.

Societal Strains

Father Papalia thinks if the Catholics of some 200 hundred years ago saw today’s preparation for Christmas, they would be confused as to what was being prepared for and celebrated. 

“Our season of Advent is meant to prepare ourselves in many different ways for the coming of the yearly anniversary of the greatest event in the world’s history, when God became man (and still remained as God),” he said. “If we lose this, then we fall into the philosophy of fast-food restaurants that tell us to ‘have it your way.’” 

Instead of focusing on the atmosphere of Christmas and setting out for what is supposedly “guaranteed” to make us happy – as commercials and advertisements would have it – Father Papalia advises not to play into a “frenetic society that has forgotten what Advent and Christmas are all about.”

“Yes to wonderful foods and treats, joyful gatherings, lots of colorful lights, exchanging of thoughtful gifts – but done with a sense of great reverence for the 12 days of the feast,” he said. 

Added Knipper, “Too much running around leaves us hassled and breathless. Be kind to yourself, and let the rituals you love nourish you.”