After Christmas Blues?

Yes, it happens. It’s real. And there are reasons it happens to some people, most of us, really, to some degree. It’s a natural reaction.

Think about it for a minute. 

You work so hard at preparing for this one big, important day. For many of us it starts before Thanksgiving. We’re bombarded with Christmas shopping ads on the radio, TV, and social media almost as soon as Halloween is over. 

Suddenly the stores are filling with gift ideas and holiday decorations. Craft stores are stuffed with Christmas goodies of every kind to make special gifts and fun projects for the kids and grandkids. You’re hearing wall to wall Christmas music everywhere you go.

It’s already overwhelming and it’s not even Thanksgiving.

There’s an unspoken push to rush to get everything done so you can have a picture perfect Christmas. Which actually doesn’t exist, by the way.

We’re almost as bad in our household. Our ten trees (yes, ten; read my series describing them “Each Tree Has a Story”) go up every year now before Thanksgiving. Why? Because I love the beauty of them and the way it brightens our home. It’s a lot of work, but I really do enjoy it.

But then there’s shopping, baking, gift wrapping (thank goodness for my husband who enjoys it), visits to Santa with the grandkids, Christmas lists, parties (well, not so many of them in recent years). It’s almost an overload, and for some people it is.

Instead of taking time to enjoy the beauty and peace of the season, many of us frantically rush around and knock ourselves out trying to be sure every little detail is perfect. Our lists have lists, even.

It just gets totally crazy. 

And for those with kids, it’s even crazier, because they’re so excited about Santa Claus, and presents they just can’t wait. “How many more days, Mommy?” is heard at least ten times a day, or so it begins to seem.

It’s exhausting. 

And Christmas Eve sometimes brings panic in procrastinators who put everything off til the last minute. Those of us with lists go over them two or three more times to be sure everything is done, from presents for everyone on our lists to Christmas Day breakfast and dinner. Do we have everything?  What did we forget? Instead of breathing a sigh of relief and relaxing, our nerves are on edge. 

Then comes Christmas Day with all the madness. All the carefully wrapped gifts are torn open, wrapping paper and bows discarded everywhere, and quickly the room where presents are opened goes from beautiful anticipation of what’s inside those boxes and bags to a blur of chaos, trashed paper, and boxes piled around everywhere. And at our home, the grandkids deciding to play with the empty gift bags and putting the dogs’ toys in them to give as more “gifts”.

And suddenly it’s over. Done. All that hard work for an hour or two of excitement.

And now what? We have our traditional dinner and eat too much, friends and families may drop by, and then suddenly it’s over, almost as quickly as it began that morning. 

To some of us it means another Christmas of happy memories to cherish. To some it’s a relief that it’s all over and things can return to normal again. To some it’s the opportunity to go out the next day and collect more things on sale for next Christmas. Like we really need to do that.

But for many others, it’s a sense of letdown. There’s nothing left to anticipate. There’s nothing to plan for right away. Nothing to look forward to with excitement. Just the remnants that have to be put away for another year.

Or for some, it’s disappointment that Christmas didn’t measure up to what they expected, what they wanted, or what they hoped for. All that hype and preparation, and for what?

Suddenly life returns with a vengeance. All the things we put out of our minds for this special time quickly come back, and once again we’re overwhelmed in a different way. This beautiful time of friends and family and joy we just experienced is gone. 

Or so it seems. We think about how we’d like to go back to those feelings we had on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but sadly, the magic seems to be have left when the clock struck midnight. And now the winter is ahead and we realize it’s back to our day to day world. As if Christmas never happened.

We miss that anticipation of something wonderful being about to happen. And worry about what life is going to bring next. And it depresses a lot of people.

Why can’t every day have the excitement of Christmas? Wouldn’t it be nice? But then, we’d lose the sense of excitement of those special days in our lives.

Why not start changing your outlook now by taking a moment each day to think about something you’re anticipating. Not the daily dreading of a day that might not go as you’d like, but the anticipation that something wonderful could happen at any time. Something to look forward to.

A surprise phone call. A chance meeting with someone you never expected. A friend bringing good news. Reconnecting with people you haven’t seen in months, or even years.

Something great can happen at any time. And it usually does when you least expect it. 

Because not everything wonderful that happens is limited to Christmas. That’s just the beginning. It’s time to turn those blues into sunshine.

Finding An Angel

For anyone who’s gone through it already, you know the pain of going through that first Christmas without your loved one is unlike almost anything else. It was bad enough when you lost him or her. You didn’t think it could get any worse. Well, it really can’t….until you lose another loved one. But going through a holiday like Christmas for the first time without that special person, when so many memories are tied into that holiday, well, it can be one of the most emotional times of that first year.

For me, there were a lot of moments during that first December without my mother, which brought not only a rush of memories, but buckets of tears and a lot of streaked makeup running down my face. Even when you finally start to get into the Christmas spirit a little bit, those memories sneak in and hit you where it hurts the most.

But somehow the Lord always gives us certain “divine appointments” with others in similar situations who also need to know they’re not alone, and He sends them right into our path to make each of us feel a bit better.

He certainly did that for me that first Christmas without my mom. Shopping that year was extremely difficult. There were so many happy faces, heading out to buy gifts for loved ones. I was missing my mother terribly, and the last thing I felt was happy. Although I’d always had trouble deciding what to buy for my mother, there were certain items I could always get her that I knew she’d like. And of course, in every store I went in that first year, there was something I started to pick up, thinking I’d get it for her. Then I’d remember, she isn’t here anymore, and it stayed on the shelf.

One evening when I was trying to shop, I overheard a lady in a gift shop talking to a friend on her cell phone about some of the Willow Tree angels she was thinking about buying. (I also collect them and had given several to my mother.) She’d made a comment to the store’s manager about how she could find the gifts she needed for her friends, but she just couldn’t get into Christmas this year. The Lord prompted me to speak up, and I said, “Neither can I.” She asked why, and I told her about my mom.

Then she told me her husband had died two months ago, about the same time as my mother, and how much she was missing him. We talked about how we each felt for several minutes, and in that time, I knew I was ministering to someone who needed comfort more than I did. She tearfully made a comment about coming in the store to look for angels, and I told her we’d both found one. Both of us cried and ended up hugging each other, like old friends. I guess the people in the store thought we were a bit crazy, but I really didn’t care.

We’d never seen each other before in our lives. Obviously we both needed to share our grief with someone we didn’t know, because Christmas is meant to be shared with loved ones more than any other holiday. Why I didn’t exchange information with her I don’t know. But I pray she has found her peace as well.

Willow_Tree_Angel

How do we make it through one of the most difficult holidays during our first year of grief? Unfortunately there are no easy answers, no right or wrong ways to survive the season. Even now, after nine years, when I stand in the kitchen making cookies, or planning Christmas dinner, or writing out a Christmas shopping list my mother’s name isn’t on anymore, or hearing “Little Drummer Boy” or “Silent Night”, it still brings back bittersweet memories, as well as a few tears.

May I never reach the point of not remembering.

And may I always find someone new to share a bit of Christmas hope and love with, just at the moment they need it the most.

It’s Not About the Presents…It’s About the Presence

I have to admit this year I’ve put off shopping for Christmas gifts until the week before the big day. Usually by then I’m almost done, all of them are wrapped, and placed under the tree.

Not this year, though.

Yes, the house is decorated, the stockings are hung, and the cookies have been baked. Plans are made for the Christmas Eve church service with the family, followed by our traditional Christmas Eve dinner afterwards. The Christmas Day dinner menu is planned.

But the presents? Let’s just say until last night the only things under the tree were the tree skirts and an occasional sleeping cat.
Snowball Tree
There are now a few gifts under there. And a few more to be wrapped, but that’s it. Like the majority of our friends, our gift giving has been cut back. Not only our list of who we’re giving gifts to, but the types of gifts we’re giving. Instead of just going out and buying things for the sake of buying, just to get the shopping done…and not really thinking about what we’re doing, we’re getting gifts that person needs, and maybe one that’s just a little bit for fun. The gifts may not be glamorous, but they’re something that will be put to very good use.

In past years we shopped and shopped, having to get “just one more thing” because we felt like we had to….and not even really thinking about what we were doing. In some instances, we felt like we were expected to give gifts, instead of giving them because we wanted to give out of the love in our hearts. Then we’d spend hours wrapping boxes and putting items in those wonderful gift bags, which are actually one of the best inventions ever! We piled gifts under the tree for everyone. You could barely see the base of the tree, and Ashley had to crawl under there as she “played Santa Claus” to pull them all out. We opened and opened, and hardly remembered what we’d received after it was all over.

And yes, it was fun, but looking back now, it was also a bit much. A bit extravagant. Instead of celebrating the real reason for the season, we celebrated the commercial element of Christmas by shopping the sales and seeing how much money we could save as we spent.

We concentrated on the presents under the tree, rather than the presence of the meaning of Christmas…the presence of our Lord and Savior in our hearts. If it weren’t for the birth of Jesus, there wouldn’t be Christmas, would there?

This year, we have made the decision to concentrate more on the presence of the spirit of Christmas, rather than the presents that have become the main focus for the season. I’m not saying we shouldn’t give gifts to our loved ones, but we need to be sure what we give is something from our hearts, and not from ads on tv and in the newspaper that tell us we need to buy really extravagant purchases right now while they’re on sale.

Not all presents need to have been bought at a store. The greatest gift the world has known certainly didn’t come from a store, but straight from God.

IMG_5774Our daughter and son-in-law are giving us the most wonderful present we could have, even though she won’t be arriving until next year, and she certainly won’t be gift-wrapped. Our granddaughter Rachel Marie will be worth far more than any gift that could ever be wrapped up under the tree.

We have some very dear friends who started a special Christmas tradition right after they were married. Instead of exchanging gifts, they write each other a special letter, and exchange them on Christmas morning. I have no idea what the letters say, because they’re personal, but knowing these friends, they re-proclaim the love they have for each other, and tell each other why they are thankful for another year together. And they give thanks to the Lord for bringing them together and keeping them together. I think this is a wonderful idea, and I admire them greatly for doing it.

Is the presence of Christmas in your hearts and in your home this season, or just the presents? If not, take a few minutes to relax, and breathe, and step away from the busy-ness of the holiday season and focus on the true meaning of Christmas. And make your gifts to your loved ones special ones from your heart to show them how much they mean to you.

It’s not about the presents under the tree…but the present in the manger over 2,000 years ago…and the presence of love and the presence of our Lord in our lives and in our hearts.

Anticipation…

This morning I woke up to the radio announcer saying “Just think…Christmas is one week from today! Are you ready?”

Where has the time gone? It can’t possibly be that close! How did that happen anyway? I still have shopping to do; in fact I haven’t really started. There are friends we want to have over for dinners we haven’t even planned yet. I haven’t bought Christmas cards, and guess I won’t again this year. And I still have one more batch of Christmas cookies to make…

But then I realized I also haven’t had time to slow down and enjoy the beauty of my favorite season, because we’ve been so busy working, and by the time the day is over we’re too tired to stop and smell the Christmas candles, or take a drive and enjoy the beauty of all the brightly lit decorated homes in the neighborhood. The season is becoming a time of stress and exhaustion rather than anticipation and excitement. And that’s not the way it’s supposed to be. Not at all.

What happened? Where’d the time go? There’s one week left…just seven short days.

Sixty years ago my little five year old self woke up one week before Christmas. And asked my mother excitedly, “how much longer til it’s Christmas?” And that answer of one week sounded like a lifetime…and seven days sounded even longer!

Time is measured differently at Christmastime by children. Because life is so much simpler for them.

calendar candle

When I was a child, we always had a candle we’d burn every evening at dinner, starting December 1. It had markings on it for the 24 days leading up to Christmas Day, and it seemed like that candle would never burn all the way down to 24! I remember the anticipation of watching it, and actually wondering if I could hurry up the time by burning two numbers each night instead of one!

When Christmas started getting so close, I was so excited I just couldn’t contain myself. By the time it was just a couple of days away, I couldn’t even sleep at night. And Christmas morning, I was up at the crack of dawn, because I wanted to see what Santa Claus had brought!

So what’s happened to the anticipation we should still be having for Christmas? Have we lost some of the excitement by being caught up in the hustle and bustle of everything we’re expected to do, and having no time to do it? Or are we trying to do too much and not taking the time to think about and appreciate the event that’s coming? And to share that excitement with others?

Let’s slow down a bit and enjoy the excitement of what Christmas really means…it’s not just what gifts we’re giving or getting. It’s a time of celebration of the birth of the Savior of the world. I think about how excited my husband and I are about the upcoming birth of our first grandchild, and that’s not until another five months! The celebration of Jesus’ birth is only seven days away! When it’s only seven more days til our granddaughter’s arrival date, I probably won’t be able to sleep either! Shouldn’t it still be that excitement for Christmas we had as a child?

I think it’s time to get excited again about what Christmas means, and anticipate the celebration that’s coming, instead of rushing around and worrying that we won’t have everything done. So smell the Christmas candles, take a ride and look at the lights, invite friends over for cake and egg nog, go Christmas caroling (even if you can’t sing that well), or take a plate of cookies to someone who may not have a lot of family or friends around this season. Call or visit someone who may be having a tough time with the season because of a recent loss, and give them a hug and a word of encouragement; you have no idea how much that will mean to them.season of love

It’s not just about buying gifts, you know…..it’s about love and sharing that love with others. So start getting excited, not stressed! You’ll be surprised how much better you’ll feel.

Before It Was Black Friday

I really don’t remember when everyone started calling the day after Thanksgiving Black Friday. I should, because I began my business career working as Marketing Director at a local shopping mall near my hometown.

But that was 35+ years ago. Back then, we didn’t put up the mall Christmas decorations until the week of Thanksgiving. I spent many evenings at that mall until 2:00 AM with my staff, making sure the decorations would be ready for the day after Christmas, when we had our big Santa Claus arrival. The place was packed when the man in the red suit arrived, usually by fire truck, and the security guards were lined up to keep the crowds back as he made his way to his place of honor at the mall, “ho ho ho-ing” as he waved to all the kids.

Fast forward ten years in the future, when Ben and I had our daughter Ashley, and my mother finally had her long-awaited grandchild. Everything took on a new meaning. New traditions were made.

For us, as for countless other families, the day after Thanksgiving evolved into a day of shopping traditions, as it ushered in the Christmas shopping season. Ben and I always took my mother and Ashley and ventured to the mall to see how much Christmas shopping we could get done in one day. The four of us, and everyone else, of course.

Those early days were fun. The malls weren’t wall to wall people quite like they are now. Shopping with a small child was interesting. Especially the year when that small child was two, and decided to have a meltdown in one of the department stores. There’s nothing like watching your daughter rolling on the floor screaming and kicking because she didn’t get her way, and having a sales associate come over to ask if everything was all right, and her retired-schoolteacher grandmother calmly saying, “It’s okay, she’s just having a temper tantrum. She’ll be fine.” And I wanted to go through the floor.

Then there was the first year Ashley was old enough to really appreciate what Santa Claus represented. The wonder in her eyes as she sat in his lap that first time and told him what she wanted for Christmas was so special. She believed he’d bring her that doll! She knew it! (And of course he did!)

Time marches on, though, and the years slowed my mom down, but she still always made the effort to go shopping with us on the day after Thanksgiving. She and Ashley would go through the newspaper ads after dinner, cut out coupons, make their lists, and we’d hit the stores the next morning. Mom had to rest every so often, but she always made the effort to go. It had become a tradition, and she wasn’t going to stop it.

Black Friday wasn’t the same after we lost my mother, though. We made the best of it, but there was something missing; it just wasn’t right.

And I slowly realized the shopping tradition we’d done for so long wasn’t really about a day of shopping and spending money on gifts; sometimes buying things we really weren’t wild about for people, just because they were on our lists and we wanted to be done. It was about making memories, and enjoying being together.

Over the last few years I haven’t done the “Black Friday” shopping marathon. Yes, I still go shopping for a while with Ashley. But not the all-day excursions we used to do.

It’s not that I’m not in the holiday spirit. I’ve learned over these past years the holiday spirit is a lot more than going shopping on the day after Thanksgiving and seeing what bargains we can grab. We spend one day, Thanksgiving, saying how thankful we are for what we have, and the next day (or sometimes even later that evening!) we’re out seeing how many deals we can get, and how much money we can spend for things we, or other people, don’t really need.Christmas gifts

I’m not criticizing anyone for their shopping traditions; we had them, too, and I’m sure Ashley and Ben and I will continue them when our grandchildren arrive. We’ll take them to see Santa Claus and have pictures made…all the things parents and grandparents do.

But for me, right now, I prefer to be thankful for what we have. For the blessings, and love, of friends and family. I will still give gifts to family and special friends, but they will be gifts from my heart, and not because they were on sale. I want those gifts to mean something other than how much I saved and what bargains I found on Black Friday.

And I still want to remember what I was thankful for yesterday…..