I look forward to the holidays, a time that I gather with friends and family for festive meals and a celebration of God’s goodness. We enjoy our time together, sharing the spread that my mom has typically put together (and an obligatory walk before our pie). No, it's not perfect. I’ve brought my own angst and unmet expectations to the table, but it is a place to belong and be loved.
Yet in the midst of this, I’m mindful that many of my neighbors and friends don’t experience those warm fuzzies. This season can be a time of loneliness. A time to hide, not wanting to relive the pain of holidays past. A time of disappointment - but secretly hoping that maybe, just maybe, this year will be different. For many people, this time of year is merely to be endured, if not escaped from. The messages we get from advertising and media only exacerbate the pain.
What I find disheartening is that many of those stories carry pain, not for what the holiday truly means, but because of unmet expectations in the surrounding traditions.
Thanksgiving is a day set aside to remember and thank God for all His provision. We need to do this every day, but here is a day especially marked for the occasion. No matter our situation, there is much to be grateful for if we open our eyes.
Similarly, Christmas is a time to reflect on God’s love as we celebrate Jesus’ birth. That’s awesome. But the associations we’ve attached to it – consumerism, family perfection, romantic idealism – are what usually bring the pain and the stress.
As for me, I love the holidays, even with all its trappings. But I have to be intentional to cling to the real meaning of the season. And in so doing, I want to be mindful of those around me who are experiencing the season differently.
The rabbis taught that true gratitude is revealed in generosity with others. My parents express that with extra seats at our table. For me, that includes not just a sharing of what I have, but of who I am. I want to take time to listen and make room for others, even if it means holding loosely to my own traditions and desires for the day.
The rabbis also taught that we didn’t find community, but rather did community. If you find yourself without specific plans, what about starting something yourself? Doesn’t have to be fancy – a PB and J with a friend (or stranger) or two can be a welcome respite on a day otherwise spent alone. Create your own community. When we begin acting selflessly towards others, we often find ourselves in the midst of community.
Enjoy the holidays! Celebrate! It is joyous to recall God’s goodness. But let the traditions we’ve added not detract but rather draw us into true community and hospitality. Let us be generous with our time and emotions so that our aching neighbor can see Jesus, who’s coming we will soon be celebrating. It will be a beautiful site, with or without the decorations.
“So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone…” Galatians 6:10