The Christmas Blues?

I was watching TV the other morning before leaving for the office and came across a news story about a burgeoning problem amongst Christmas observers - Christmas burnout. Here was the gist of the story - that people begin the Christmas season with the greatest of expectations and the purest of intentions, but lose the ability to make their plans reality due to the hustle and bustle of American life, especially life at Christmas time. Their missed expectations, then, drive them to discouragement and depression, or at least that's what this author said. They offered some great tips for warding off this Christmas depression - time with friends and family, better planning, blah, blah, blah. It really got me thinking - do that many people suffer from depression at Christmas time?

Ever the contemplative critic, I began to do some soul searching about my own Christmas "heart." I am, after all, a self-proclaimed Christmas "junkie." I love it - the lights, the songs, the tree, the presents, the movies, all of it. As I reflected on my own desires for my Christmas festivities, I saw some similarities in my life with the poor depressed Christmas revelers this author was describing. Allow me to explain.

My Christmas vision each year is rich with tradition and dripping with cultural trappings. I want to take my kids ice skating and shopping in NYC, drive around looking at all the neighborhood light displays, visit winter carnivals, drink hot chocolate, curl up in our PJs and watch Rudolph and Frosty and Elf and all the great Christmas movies. But why do all of those things move me the way they do? Why do I watch "It's a Wonderful Life" and feel the desire to go back to a Christmas season and culture I never knew? Why do my Christmas dreams and my desires for celebration look more like 1940's Hollywood than New Testament Palestine? And herein lies the core issue for me and for those depressed Christmas celebrants in my TV interview. I am chasing a vision of Christmas that doesn't exist in reality and fails to deliver on its promises. The people in that interview are chasing that same utopian Christmas experience and are left broken-hearted when all of their efforts explode into a ball of Christmas chaos (ever see Christmas Vacation?)

As a Christian American (and the order of that title is intentional), I find myself pulled between my culture and my faith on a regular basis. Nowhere is this tension more clear than during the Christmas season. My reflective journey led me to some conclusions this season. Allow me to share them with the 6 of you who actually read this thing:

1. Participating in the American cultural celebrations of Christmas (trees, wreaths, lights, hot chocolate, Clark Griswold, etc.) should be treated as a cultural thing - a fun thing to do but clearly not the substance of our observance.

2. Allow your Christmas "vision" to be saturated with the things that ultimately provide you with the fulfillment and satisfaction you crave. Meditate on the Christmas story in the Scriptures. Light Advent candles and remember the significance of Christ's incarnation. Read Luke 2 with your family. Tell your kids that Santa was a real historical figure and is a fun part of the American Christmas, but is nowhere near as good or benevolent as the God who came to earth out of His love for us to redeem those born under the law. Build your traditions around Christ-centered moments of caroling and contemplation. Stay up late Christmas Eve and allow your mind to drift to a far off place and a young teenage mother and father giving birth in a barn and pray for the ability to see the significance of that moment.

3. Hold the Biblical significance of the season and the American celebration in a proper position of "tension." Don't chase the vision of American Christmases from a bygone era, instead chase the ultimate glory of God revealed in an infant born to a Virgin in Bethlehem.

Christ in his coming will satisfy those Christmas "blues."