Here we are smack-dab in the middle of the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. For most of us, we are tired from all the holiday running and stress of expectations that come with this time of year. I mean, think about it for a few moments. The DAY of Thanksgiving, millions of people start rushing to get deals on items for Christmas. Why? Why don’t we actually just spend the time sitting back and relaxing? Why is it that we don’t even have the turkey digested before we are filling ourselves with Starbucks and shopping like mad through the night? I suppose there are many reasons, but I keep coming back to the same one over and over: Expectations! The holiday season brings with it huge expectations for most people. We have to meet expectations in buying gifts, getting together with family and friends (even if we love them). We often get caught up in the frenzy of December and start stressing about every detail. It’s even worse if you are still having to go to work (or are working as a stay-at-home mom) and don’t have the luxury to attend to the details of the season whenever you’d like. The expectations are outrageous, and yet we find ourselves on the same treadmill year after year.
Last Thursday was Christmas and I’m sure I’m not the only one who is thankful to have gotten through another year of festivities. I love the time with family and friends, but (like most of you) we have several family get-togethers, and it seems we spend the 48 hours of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day doing nothing but running from one place to another…and eating FAR more than is comfortable for any one body to digest! Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the festivities. I just wish they were spread out over more than just two days! And of course, there is always the purchase of last minute gifts (or the equaling of money spent on gifts), and everywhere you look, people do NOT look joyful. Right up until the moment of celebration, people are irritated, stressed, and trying to just get through the day. One of the things I do find it funny though is that so many people lament about the over-commercialization of Christmas, but they do the same thing with over-committing themselves to activities – even those that are filled with the true spirit of giving. It’s easy to point your finger at someone who is caught up in the monetary aspect of the season but not bother to look at the fact you are caught up in the activities of the season (no matter how noble) and wear yourself down until you can’t enjoy or appreciate the reason for the season either. It’s no different, so get off your high-horse and take a look in the mirror.
And then it’s over. We go to bed Christmas night and wake up on December 26th. For some, it’s back to the daily grind of their jobs. For others, there is the realization that all the money and energy spent over the previous month didn’t accomplish much more than putting them in debt (financially, physically, emotionally and spiritually). We wake up with a little bit of buyer’s remorse with the way we “spent” the holiday, and whatever temporary joy we experienced on Christmas suddenly fades into the reality that the time and energy we sacrificed is often a very high price to pay. So begins what could be called the “Recovery Week:” seven days to go through a sort of “after-Christmas grief process.” Seven days that give us a chance to not just reflect on the year, but to stop and look at how the year culminated into a chaotic frenzy that is nothing more than an indulgent binge. You can break it down into the five stages of holiday grief. Instead of DABDA we have SANTA:
- S pending – This starts at Thanksgiving and is fueled by a “have to” approach to buying gifts just because it’s what we do…and after all, there are SO many great deals! We spend like we are in denial of what it costs us (not just financially).
- A nxiety – As the season progresses, we begin to realize how much money and time we are spending trying to live up to the expectations of those around us and society as a whole.
- N egotiation – Eventually we start feeling out of control and vulnerable so we make deals with others (or ourselves) hoping to regain the equilibrium we’ve lost. We wonder things like “if only I hadn’t committed to so many events…” or “if only I had been strong enough to resist the urge to spend so much money.” We look for ways to soften the inevitable “crash” that is coming by promising ourselves (or God) that we will stop and settle down and refocus.
- T rouble – As we go through the actual holiday, we find that we are already depleted before we begin. We try to enjoy the day and the people we are with, but find our tolerance level has been reduced. The day ends and we start to feel depressed about what we’ve “lost” in the holiday. We long for the times we enjoyed as a kid when everything was still magical and exciting instead of stressful and tiring. We grieve the loss of the true spirit of Christmas and wonder how in the world we got so lost.
- A cceptance – After the troubled spirit we experience on Christmas day, we are faced with a new reality. No longer are we clouded by expectations of others. We see more clearly and start to consider how we could have done things differently. We are faced with the bills associated with our spending, and the recovery we need physically to heal from the indulgence and lack of true rest. It doesn’t mean it FEELS good; it simply means we have reached a point where we reflect and accept the place in which we find ourselves. We no longer make excuses for our holiday behavior, but instead decide to move forward. This is the place we reach during the week between Dec 25th and Jan 1st , and it drives us to make changes as we begin the new year.
Christmas should be a celebration of the greatest gift this world ever received in the birth of our Lord and Savior. But maybe the second greatest gift of Christmas is actually found in its over-the-top nature that we often complain about. Maybe the over-commercialization and over-indulgence has gotten SO bad that it actually brings us back to what is important. We may lose sight during the season, but somehow that is often what brings us back to a place where we realize just how far left of center we have gotten. It’s like anything else in life – we over-indulge and wake up the next morning regretting it. It can be drinking, eating, spending, working or anything else. Most of our best decisions are made in the moments after we have lost our way. It is often in our weakest or most troubling times that we can hear the clearest. Much like the prodigal son, eventually we “come to ourselves” and make the decision to turn around.
So as we go through these next few days and approach 2015, let us all step back and be thankful. Be thankful for all the good that comes from the holidays. Be thankful for friends and family. Be thankful for a God who loves you so much that He sent His son to die so you could live! But be thankful also for the renewal of perspective. Be thankful for the credit card bills that will be coming or the exercising you are going to have to do because of how you indulged during the holidays. Be thankful for it, because the most difficult realizations often create the most beautiful changes.