“Christmas is a time when you should just feel good. Christmas is a good time,” my fourteen-year-old nephew stated as he gazed at the twinkling lights on the tree set up in the family room of my brother’s home.
Mike’s pronouncement of Christmas was very simple, and yet he had said so much in just those two sentences. I knew exactly what he had meant. He wasn’t referring to a “good time” in the sense of lots of presents or a big party. We had, instead, been discussing the importance of Christmas and the actual purpose. Mike couldn’t understand how anyone could be depressed and upset at this time of year. My nephew, however, still believed in the starry-eyed wonderment of miracles and magic at Christmas. It’s a shame that so many adults lose that enchantment as they grow older.
I tried to explain the situation to him. “Well, Mike, for a lot of people, it’s difficult if they are all alone. People can become very depressed when they feel isolated. We need to bond with other people. When there is something special happening like Christmas, and someone cannot share it with another person, it can be very upsetting.”
“But it is still Christmas,” Mike insisted. “What does it matter if you’re with other people or all alone? It’s all about how you feel about Christmas, right? It’s all about making Christmas special no matter where you are, right? What else really matters?”
I smiled at my nephew, but didn’t say anything more. I no longer wanted to talk about depression or anxiety over the holidays. Instead, I wanted Mike to enjoy the magic of Christmas as he experienced it now at the age of fourteen. I didn’t want negative talk to destroy his ideal of Christmas now or in the future. As I also looked at all of the twinkling lights that made the small room seem like a charmed fairyland, I prayed that Mike would never lose his sense of wonder. Life can beat that out of people very quickly…and Christmas, for so many souls, can be the worst time, especially if they are all alone…but, then again, I had to admit, Mike was definitely on to something.
Over the past several years, I have spent Christmas by myself. I had moved a thousand miles away from my family home in Kansas City, Kansas. I have spent solo Christmases in England, Tennessee, New Mexico, and California. A few times, a lot of my gracious, good friends in many of these locations would invite me into their homes for Christmas dinners. Though sometimes the situation could be a little awkward when friends had big family gatherings that included trading presents and family memories, I was always grateful for the invitations. However, as I grew older, the invitations were no longer offered. Many of my friends had grown up, moved away, married, and had their own families now. As we all moved ahead with our lives, invitations to Christmas gatherings ceased. I was for several years, completely on my own over the holidays. What was I going to do?
As the season began to unfold, I would stress over what activities I could do to make my lonely Christmas bearable. I could spend the day watching movies; I could go out of town…or just for a walk around the block; I could see what restaurants might be open (even though I felt guilty knowing other people had to work on Christmas Day); I could have the luxury of reading uninterrupted for hours; I could volunteer at shelters…My mind raced for days, loaded down with thoughts about Christmas.
And then on the day of my first Christmas alone, I woke up slowly after a good sleep…and prayed. I thanked God for this day. I counted my blessings. I prayed for the health of my family. I asked that all people were joyous…and then I smiled and I laughed as a sense of pure peace flooded over me. I realized then that it didn’t matter how I spent Christmas. I had been blessed with even having another Christmas….and suddenly that seemed like the best gift I could have ever received.
I laid in bed and stretched and thought of some of my friends who had asked me how I was going to spend the holiday. I had answered, “I don’t know. I think I’ll read, watch movies, go for a walk, volunteer…I don’t know…I guess it will be a day of surprises.”
Some of my friends would look at me with envy and make statements like, “Oh…I want to have your Christmas…we have to spend the day at my in-laws’ home…and I can’t stand them!”
So on that Christmas morning, I stretched and felt really good that I had a day of peace. Pure, real peace…the peace of a thousand angels. And then I realized, I was not alone. I would never be alone on Christmas. For this was the day that Jesus came to his people, to save us from sin, to love and protect us, to guide us through our lives, to give us hope and faith and love. I spent the next several days in a happy glow. I felt connected to all people. I could feel their hearts and share in their love and kindness.
I may have been by myself, but how could I have ever felt alone on Christmas?
So now this year, I listened to my nephew talk about Christmas. “Aunt Jamie, it’s really not a holiday,” he declared. “It’s how you feel in your own mind. I still don’t understand how people can feel sad at Christmas.”
“Neither do I, Mike,” I said, ending the conversation, “I guess no one can really understands if they have never felt alone on Christmas Day.” The feelings of depression during Christmas are something I can’t explain, for I have never been alone.
This year, after nearly twenty years, I am spending Christmas with family. Together, we have put up a tree, decorated the house, watched Christmas shows on TV, viewed plaza Christmas lights, and listened to Christmas music. It’s so enjoyable to be with family at this time of year…but it was also a beautiful day when I was alone.
After all, as my 14-year-old nephew said, “Christmas is in your heart. It’s a state of mind.”
So wise, Mike, so very wise!