Christmas – peace or turmoil?

Red tinsel, silver bells, bundles of holly and an pulsating hum of expectation is in the air.  Christmas is approaching again and how this year has flown by!

Perhaps I remain a child at heart but I can never forget little girl Christmases … the religious significance (whatever our belief system, the birth of Christ and his message of peace is the actual reason for upcoming celebrations), the excitement at school as studies were put aside to be replaced by carol singing and story writing, the wishes and hopes and dreams – and an awareness of limits, too.

I thrived on the element of surprise and as all children do, looked forward greatly to that special family time of decorating the tree.  Then the exchange of greeting cards and a wistful poring over those that seemed to mean the most … oddly, those that warmed my heart were enchanting scenes where carol singers, snug in cosy attire, appeared against a luminous backdrop of green iced with snow like frosting on the cake.  In the contrasting heat of the Melbourne summer, the idea of the nip and chill of a winter Christmas seemed to bring with it both a dream and a reality – and a strong sense of peace.

Many years later I happened to experience just that as we spent some time in Amsterdam in the week before Christmas.  It was cold right enough!  And there was the dignified St Nicholas, Sinterklaas,  complete with beard, crook and mitre, creating festivity among the people while accompanied by his mischievous helpers, the ‘Zwarte Pieten’ (Black Petes), there to reward the good children and punish the naughty ones.  Although recently these helpers have been criticized as a projection of racial discrimination, I think most can recognize tradition for what it is meant to be:  in this case, a celebration where St Nicholas, originally from Spain, brings his Moorish helper to assist him care for the poor by putting money in the children’s shoes – hence the Christmas stocking and these days, the excess of commercially oriented gift giving.  Small beginnings can grow, perhaps not always in the best interests of humankind.

However, like all traditions, this has a place in society.  For what would we do without Christmas as it punctuates the mundane, intoxicates with anticipation and provides good reason to gather and celebrate an occasion of significance and meaning?

But there can be melancholy surrounding Christmas, too.  Inevitably, the let down of sadness will follow excitement.  Hopes may be dashed, disappointment emerges and anti-climax may bring tears, loneliness and a level of heartbreak.  Like many significant anniversaries, Christmas time may bring reminders of loss or bereavement. And we know the plight of the underprivileged, those who may never enjoy the company and camaraderie surrounding the family table on that day.  But not all Christmas tables are happy tables either.  These occasions can destroy peace and create turmoil, raising relentless negative memories, issues and arguments sufficient to destroy happiness and bring remorse.  Depression is a common experience for many at these celebratory times.  And society at large goes on, repeating the commercialization, the excitement, the expectation so that many come to dread the pressure and ultimate sorrow surrounding festive events. How does this feel, this melancholy, this turmoil?  There’s emptiness and hollowness; there’s anger, resentment and distress; a sense of isolation, an ‘aloneness’ that can barely be described; there’s a desire to be alone, to indulge in misery; there might be a temptation to drown those sorrows in alcohol or drugs or anything that might seem to remotely offer escape.

But how could this turmoil feel? It could be possible to listen, truly listen to the pain within.  It could be possible (before taking drastic action) to seek some time alone and, with pen and paper, describe the troublesome feelings.  The very act of writing feelings of pain and hurt draws them out of the head and on to the page … it may not read like a pretty story but from the written word, perhaps those feelings could begin to be viewed in a slightly different way.  And then perhaps it might be possible to look deeper than the pain, find a shred of goodness behind it all, just a whisper of something slightly meaningful, after all.  And then, if possible, that hint of goodness might take hold and enter the heart as a treasure – and that treasure might be a very small step away from despair.  ‘Miracles’ can happen – to any of us, if we watch for them.

Last month I touched upon balance, reflecting on the importance of moderation in all things.  That’s a bit of a hackneyed expression I know and because of that, perhaps we don’t always pay attention to its meaning.  Maybe now is the time to pause and consider balance – and consider planning a moderate and very happy and meaningful Christmas celebration.