Thursday, December 06, 2012

Are We Expected to Feel Merry Throughout Christmas?/MANN

Recently, I watched a Santa Claus parade and I listened to the joyous chorus, We Wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Each walker's glowing countenance reflected a sincere wish for those of us along the curb. The words evoked hope and anticipation for a season filled with joy. People grasped the truth in the words and connected to the excitement of Christmas and New Year celebrations.

I looked over the crowd and saw a couple of women wipe away tears. My first thought was one might have been a grandmother watching a grandchild break forth in sound, or perhaps the song has opened a sentimental moment in this person’s memory. However as I watched, I remembered a recent obituary in the local newspaper of a person who died too young, too tragic and with too much suffering.

I often find myself wondering if we say Merry Christmas before we think about a person's personal circumstance. Or maybe it’s become such a generic statement to some that regardless of a faith stand, we’re sure they'll understand these words. Maybe it's really for ourselves that we proclaim all Christmases should be merry and these words especially lift our hearts to remember and claim how special a merry Christmas can be.

Perhaps we offer people this greeting hoping that merriment and cheerfulness will help them to overcome any burdens they might be carrying after being thrown into the depth of sorrow by particular circumstances. Or do we want them to hang on to the words as a promise that God’s gift of Jesus will bring all people joy. Personally I love that old song and I often hum it while decorating the tree and putting up lights.

However, I remember my mother’s death and funeral service mid December back in the early 80s. Even though we celebrated her life, talked about God’s gift of eternal life and sang about God’s promise of comfort and love, it seemed that the word ‘Merry’ in the Christmas greetings that year somehow grated my spirit. I remember consoling myself by saying they didn’t know Mom just died or they’re hoping their greeting will lift me out of my grief. But, when we are grieving a loved one’s death, do we want to set aside our mourning for joy - just yet? But . . . perhaps our hope is that God will enter our world of sorrow, ‘sit and sup with us’ as was my hope that particular year.

Due to faith and family connection, suicides do not increase over the holiday season, but depression does (2012 Canadian Mental Health Fact Sheet). Many churches, in their wisdom, offer a Blue Christmas Service prior to the Christmas celebration services, usually on the longest night of the year. In a griever’s heart, life sometimes resembles the longest, darkest time in their life as they live through the firsts such as Christmas, birthday and anniversaries. Thanks to Ruth Coghill for initiating this blog on Words to Inspire radio show (airing on December 23 and 24th) when we discuss challenging thoughts of grief and Christmas.

So what kind of a greeting do I give you this Christmas? Perhaps that you will experience God’s peace, hope and love in new ways through this Christmas and into the new year.

Donna Mann

“Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if you hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to you, and will sup with you, and you with me” (Rev.3:20).


Peter Black said...

Donna, it's evident that your thoughtful musings on this topic are sensitively worked through from your own deep December grief experience.
May any among your readers in a similar situation receive comfort and hope through this post.
At the present time I'm praying comfort for a pastor and his family -- close friends of my son and daughter-in-law -- whose 11 year-old daughter died last week; and also for another family bereaved of a wife and mother.
Your chosen scripture never fails to warm my heart. Thanks. ~~+~~

Diana said...

Hi Donna, your post is food for thought. I didn't always feel merry at Christmas. I didn't have faith in Jesus as a kid and teen, and in my teen years I felt Christmases become more and more empty and meaningless. I was depressed by what I felt was a lot of hoo ha about nothing. Then at age 19 (1973) I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Saviour and since then Christmas has always had meaning and joy for me, even when I feel sad about something, or sick, or depressed.

Merry in our culture has lost its original meaning. In medieval times it meant; "I wish you good health and blessings and prosperity. I wish you the best life you can have." I actually try to say something along those lines to people. But, sometimes Merry Christmas is like "Hi how are you?" It's a greeting with an underlying meaning of, "I really wish you the best, but in the middle of the supermarket we can't talk about how you've been suffering a bad bladder infection." Or something like that.

I lost my mom this summer and our family is facing the first Christmas without her. It will be bittersweet. But the sweet will outweigh the bitter. Mom loved Jesus. She's dancing in heaven. And we have good memories of her. And we are a close-knit family. So the sadness will be threaded with joy. And the greatest joy is the Christ in Christmas.

Donna Mann said...

Thank you Diana and Peter for your thoughts. So true that everybody comes to and through grief in their individual way.

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