December was different
If you are reading this you are probably over 7 years old. I read somewhere that 7 is the average age at which boys and girls stop believing in Santa. More interestingly some studies show that although children have positive feelings on learning the truth about Santa, parents are predominantly sad and even feel a sense of loss when their child discovers that Santa isn’t really coming (…and worse, was never going to come). Traditions are important to us – they bring a feel-good factor — traditions enrich our lives.
And there are loads of traditions in the period we have just left — Christmas. Christmas gives us permission to wear our heart on our sleeves with jollity and stress in equal measure. It’s an excuse to connect with neighbours, colleagues and random people in the street as we engage in similar activities (the same ones we did the previous year). Carols, shopping, decorating, cooking, complaining. Christmas is also a great leveller, many of us light up our houses on the outside and decorate them on the inside whatever we happen to believe. We give ourselves permission to talk with people we never met before in car parks and supermarket queues. Lights, trees and cards engender warm fuzzy feelings and there’s something about all of this that brings a sense of cordiality to strangers and security for ourselves.
I’m not saying it’s all hilarity and cheer, for some it can be the opposite but for most people most of the time Christmas makes us feel good about the world and good about ourselves. Our problems get put on hold.
January is also different
January stands in contrast to December. January can be a dark and difficult month. Whereas in December we just didn’t have time to stop and think, January can bring an excess of self reflection, too much thinking time. The lights get switched off, TVs are restored to pre-Christmas schedules, and we are back at work in the same old job – or worse, gazing into another year with no job. I know people not prone to depression who nonetheless experience an immense lack of motivation in January. For some this can continue in some form until “the great lifting” at the end of March when we are routinely surprised and delighted by our old friend,Daylight.
If we find January difficult, there are a few simple things we can do to help ourselves.
The main thing is to simply understand what is happening, apply some realism. For example Monday mornings are painful — but they don’t last. January blues will pass in the vast majority of cases. And remember that your house looked really good BEFORE you put up all those lights and tinsel – so it will look just as good again when they are down – and a lot clearer.
Secondly, in some ways don’t we need the darkness of this world in order to properly appreciate the light? I sometimes joke with my work colleagues in California that I appreciate the sun far more than they do. I love clear crisp days in the winter and the sunshine in spring far more than they ever could. Living in the UK (and near Manchester at that) gives me an authentic reason to be glad for sunny days! We kind of need the sour in order to appreciate the sweet.
Thirdly, never underestimate the sense of wellbeing we can achieve by simply doing something for someone else. “it’s more blessed to give than to receive” says Acts 20.25. In my view this is not because of some “pie in the sky when you die”, celestial pat on the back we are lining up. It literally feels good to give your money or even better, your time. As well as Scripture secular studies back this view.
And lastly, it always profits us as Christians to take time to just pause at odd moments, and consciously recall the man at the centre of Christmas who actually does exist. A God of hope who chose to enter a world of no hope. A God of love who chose to love unlovely people. A God of persistence who chased us down to bring us back to himself. This is mustard seed reasoning where old ways have to die to make way for new, where the weak things overcome the strong and the foolish things shame the wise. Christmas is such an unlikely story isn’t it; but pondering the truth of it can bring us genuine “Christmas cheer” whether it’s December, January, or July. Happy New Year!
This blog was also published by The Baptist Times