My favorite aspect of Christmas that receives little attention is the sadness.
The popular images of Christmas are pure sugary fun: presents, excited children, cartoon specials, lights, etc. But I’d submit the real power of Christmas comes in the hushed melancholy. The cold ferocity of December’s weather. The quiet of Christmas day around town. The post-madness letdown. The absent loved ones. The forever absent loved ones. The haunting songs that take our hearts into different, difficult places and times. Memories of holidays that were, holidays that never were, and holidays that can never be.
Even for those surrounded by love, laughter, and life, the holiday carries with it a lugubrious, forlorn spirit that wrests about among the stockings, chocolate boxes, and mistletoe. Aside from the humble beginnings in a manger, as the story goes, our times with friends and family and our preparations for the coming new year inevitably lead to introspection and an accounting of ourselves. Despite the hustle and bustle of the season, many moments of the holiday slow us down, take us out of our busy routines, and invite this examination of more meaningful things, be they religious, philosophical, familial, or simply personal. The quite contemplation stands in stark contrast to the unbridled glee promoted as the standard-bearing emotion of the season.
It’s these moments that are the true gifts of Christmas. They dive deeper than superficial gifts, and exist in our hearts beyond temporal spaces illuminated by holiday lighting. It is intensely personal and private. Our time with friends, our time with family, our time outside our work and outside all else, orbiting around this time of year, tugging at us in new and different ways, harkening to those rarely visited parts of ourselves, full of hope and joy and sadness and comfort and pain and acceptance and otherwise.
No other holiday enjoys such an emotional range, and it’s this beautiful complexity that I love. And, thus, while many tear open their gifts with a rapacious desire, I’ll be savoring the moment. Surrounded by my family, seeing my friends, and being open to where the moments take me, in all their splendid melancholy.