The Christmas That Never Was

Another Christmas is upon us.

What do you hope for at this time of year? What are your longings?

Such questions. Most of us sound like beauty pageant contestants in our answers. “World peace,” we might say.

But underneath our hopes and fears of all the years, what do we want to get out of the holidays? Underneath it all, are there not wishes and desires not only unarticulated but perhaps inarticulate—wants and expectations so deep we may not even be aware that we are wanting or expecting anything?

My experience is that people—myself included—get spooked during the December holidays, especially about Christmas, the way animals get spooked before a storm or natural disaster. Like Ebenezer Scrooge himself, we are unnerved and haunted by ghosts of Christmases past and yet to come.

We try so hard for magic and love and community and familial harmony. We work so hard to reproduce the atmosphere of a “true” Christmas, an “authentic”  holiday—with cookie and cake recipes that have to come out right, greeting cards to all the people that need to get one from us, the perfect gift for every person, family traditions that must be just so, certain relatives and friends that must be present for the holiday.

And then. Inevitably. Disappointment.

The present we got is the wrong size, the wrong kind, the wrong color—or simply does not have the sheen it did in the shopping catalogue of our imagination.

Family members quarrel. Family members are far away.

Recipes don’t work. Greeting cards are late or we forgot somebody.

And after a push toward being jolly and merry and happy at Christmas that begins November 1, it all comes to a crashing halt on December 25. Bereft amid the cookie crumbs, leftovers, torn and discarded gift wrapping, we ask ourselves, What was missing?

It is in that moment, I believe, that we come the closest to realizing our unconscious hopes and desires about Christmas. What had we hoped for that we didn’t get? What were we longing for that went unrealized?

Many of us have a nostalgia for a Christmas that may never have truly existed or happened. Our nostalgia is for something that we have only longed for, been  homesick for, that doesn’t exist.

The perfect Christmas does not exist.

Even the Christmases that we “remember” from years past are reconstructed from our memories made unreliable by our unfulfilled desires and distorted by the lens of nostalgia.

I don’t know about you, but every December 25 that I wake up and am not a child, I am disappointed. That excitement, that magic, that wonder—none of those will ever be mine again because I am no longer a child.

As mature, self-differentiated adults, we handle our disappointments with lightness and grace. The clearer we are about what we can and cannot have, what is possible, practical, probable and impossible, the better our own hearts and spirits will be this season.

Peace in our hearts, our families, our households, our church comes when we act with intelligence and emotional wisdom.

What do you hope for at this time of year? What are your longings?

It’s worth taking the time to truly answer such questions.

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