Every January I go through a mini depression as Christmas comes to an end. I try to make it fun and positive. I try to find things to divert my attention away from the lack-of-Christmas. This year we have a baby coming in eleven weeks so I have much of that practical preparation to look forward to. My husband came up with the great idea of taking down the decorations as an Epiphany event; we tried to “hide everything” quickly like the Holy Family might have done in their haste to flee to Egypt. We gave Epiphany gifts and we plan to go all out in celebration of Mardi Gras.
This stuff helps. But I still feel an ache as I load up boxes and store them away. This year I was particularly dreading it because I knew it was the first year my toddler son might feel that ache too. And he did. No matter how we tried to distract him, all day long he kept begging me, I want my Christmas lights! I want my Christmas lights!
I couldn’t give him a satisfactory answer.
I don’t think the problem is the obvious fact that a good time has passed. Certainly, there will be other good times. I think the stronger feeling and the deeper concern when Christmas goes away is that somehow we missed it. I listen to the last few songs and it’s like I haven’t heard them all season. I feel like I’ve wasted time or not paid attention. We didn’t sit around the piano enough. We didn’t watch enough movies or read enough books. I don’t think we could ever drive around long enough to see all the lights there were to see. And now they’re gone. Was it really Christmas? And was I really there?
My husband has a theory that there are no such things as purely “happy tears.” I wasn’t so sure I agreed with him but now I think I do. When we cry to the words of “Silent Night,” when we cry at home videos, when we cry at the birth of a baby — I don’t think it’s because we’re just so happy. I think it’s because we get a little taste of Heaven but it slips away before we can fully cling to it. We see something so good and pure, something more good and pure than the rest of the world’s goodness and purity and, however happy that makes us, it also makes us sad because we know the world simply isn’t completely Goodness and Purity. We know we’re not in Heaven yet.
In the live-action How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the scene where the Grinch’s heart grows is a painful one. He falls to the ground in agony as the beats get louder and his chest expands. At the end of his transformation he collapses into tears. The Grinch’s tears are of neither pure sadness nor pure joy. They’re the tears of someone who has seen Goodness and then wondered why there was ever anything else but Goodness. I feel like the Grinch towards the end of the Christmas season. My heart has been stretched to make room for something that I can’t fully have or even grasp yet. And that hurts.
I think this is the very reason that commercial Christmas is all about the frantic preparation. Once Christmas Day actually arrives, everything is put away and the retailers move on to Valentines Day. It’s as if everyone is afraid of actually celebrating it. Like they’re afraid of being moved and transformed — afraid of their hearts being stretched. It’s as if they’re afraid of experiencing that supreme tenderness, knowing life won’t always be so tender— afraid of seeing that glimpse of Heaven, knowing they’re still living in a broken world.
But we all know where that reasoning leads. It was the reasoning of the Grinch, of Scrooge, of so many bitter and miserable characters, and those stories are supposed to remind us that even if Christmas may cause some sort of sadness it is worth it for all the joy. It is worth seeing the glimpse of Heaven even though it pierces us with a longing that hurts.
In the end, the only way to deal with the pain of that longing is to pursue the object of it relentlessly, never despairing, and with great hope. The only way to deal with the pain of Christmas disappointing or Christmas passing or Christmas ending is to embrace Christmas even more deeply. Because though we can’t ever fully grasp or hold these glimpses of Heaven we can get closer to them. If we are willing to face the sadness, we’ll be able to experience more of the joy. We’ll learn how to begin to live in Heaven. One day, I believe, we’ll even get there. And it will be Christmas all the time.