Sometimes I wonder why we continually subject ourselves to modes of celebration that seem specially engineered to make us feel bad. Christmas is the prime example of this.
We spend hours/days/weeks shopping for the perfect gifts, so that we can worry about whether they're good enough (probably), whether they capture exactly what we're trying to express (no, it's just an object, you might have to actually say what you feel), whether we've spent equally on everyone so that no one feels bad (yes, but someone will still feel bad), whether it will arrive on time (probably not, as the postal service seems surprised every year by the amount of stuff that people want shipped), and whether we will ever be able to pay off our credit card bills (no, that's the whole point of credit card companies).
We create "traditions," which I have come to know alternately as "excuses to get mad when people don't do what I want." So instead of being happy about the celebrations we do get to have, we get to be angry because so-and-so has to work instead of coming to the family dinner, or Rev. Changeverything has picked the wrong carols for the Christmas Eve service, or the new sister-in-law is making roast beef! When everyone knows you're supposed to have ham!
Or, if we are me, "we" get to be a little depressed because somewhere, many miles away, there are family traditions happening without us, and all around us there are other people's happy gatherings happening, and every five minutes we are reminded of the fabulous gift someone else is getting, while we know that what we will be getting is a pound of Caribou coffee (which we love and look forward to for months, don't get us wrong) and some sort of decorative item from the parents, and that's about it. (Okay, I'll stop speaking in the royal we now.) And it's not really about the gift-getting. The fact is that no matter how much I hate all those diamond commercials, because diamonds are socially irresponsible and absurdly expensive and have no actual bearing on the quality of love between two people, they still remind me that there is no one in the world who loves me enough to even consider such a gift. That I will come home after working a bazillion hours on Christmas Eve to just my dog, and spend Christmas Day semi-awkwardly attending someone else's family festivities. For about a month, several times a day, I get the supreme joy of remembering that, despite the fact that I do have a lot of friends and a pretty active social life, there just aren't that many people who care all that much about me.
And if the self-pity gets to be too much, I remember the clergy who have spouses/kids/closer families and how their holiday is so often spent juggling church and family gatherings, feeling guilty about sacrificing family time for work or vice versa, and not really getting that reprieve that I get when all the services are done and I can just sleep and not worry about being "on" for anyone else. And the other people in the world who don't just feel a sense of aloneness, as I do, but genuinely are without family, friends, or a faith community (all of which I have and am grateful for, when I can get over myself).
Its all just a lot of pressure for a holiday that got its start in a stable.
I wish I could be a like more Jesusy about the whole thing, a little less self-absorbed, a lot less sad. I'll get there around Christmas Eve. And there's something very Advent about feeling the darker side of the holidays, something very "in sin and error pining" about experiencing some sense of loss and lacking before the celebration of hope and joy. At least that is what I'm telling myself.