Submitted by Jarvis Howe, M.A.
Although Christmas is a time of joy and celebration, it can be just the opposite for some people. The shorter hours and less daylight may be partly to blame, as well as situations where people have recently lost loved ones or people who lost loved ones in years past during the Christmas season, but for others it can be something totally different, and totally within their control.
Many people have such high expectations for Christmas, even Christians who know that the true meaning of Christmas isn’t about gifts or the perfect meal, but about celebrating the birth of our Savior. These expectations can be anything from having the meal go off without a hitch to having a large family gathering with no fighting or arguing. When snags occur, as they often do, it becomes a disappointment. More than that, it shifts our focus from the true meaning of the season onto ourselves and what we could have done different or better.
The commercialization of Christmas is something that has received a lot of attention in recent years. There’s a real pressure to want to find the perfect gift for the special people in our lives. If you’re like me, you always feel like a failure (I’m terrible at buying gifts for people). But why do I put so much pressure on myself? I would love to find an awesome gift for my wife, but if I find a boring gift I know she’s not going to love me any less. Finding the perfect gift for people is not what Christmas is about, although it seems like lately I’ve been spending a lot of time and energy on it. For a lot of people, Christians and non-Christians alike, focusing too much on trying to make everything perfect and setting expectations unrealistically high often turns out just like it does every other day of the year when reality and expectation don’t match up: it’s a disappointment, which is exactly the opposite of what we should be feeling on Christmas.
I really started to think about this when I was watching A Christmas Carol last week. The Cratchit family had nothing. On Christmas there were no gifts exchanged, but they had a nice meal and a great time together as a family. It seemed to me that their only expectation was just to spend the day together. It doesn’t get much simpler than that.
It’s so easy for a Christian to get sucked into what the world says is important this time of year, especially when it’s all around us on tv, the radio, and billboards. There’s certainly nothing wrong with buying a thoughtful gift or putting effort into trying to make a great meal or a fun gathering for family, but when we set the bar too high or tie too much of our self-esteem up in these things we are only setting ourselves up for disappointment on what should be one of the happiest days of the year.
Hoping everyone has a very Merry Christmas!
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by this time of year, whether by loss or other holiday tensions, consider connecting with Jarvis Howe through our Office of Counseling and Family Ministry here at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church. You can contact Jarvis by phone at 217-423-6955 or email at email@example.com.