I have never been one to dream of a white Christmas. Bing Crosby may have longed for the treetops to glisten, but I much prefer to see them covered in colourful blossoms. As dawn and dusk creep closer together each day, squeezing out the daylight, I begin to dread that chill in the air that warns of cold, dark days ahead that will soon suffocate life with their swirling white blankets.
But snow is fun, some people say. Winter is cozy, right? Embrace every season! Christmas is a happy time! As someone who grew up in northern B.C., where our seasons consisted of eight months of winter, two months of muddy roads and two months of “poor sledding,” I definitely experienced my fair share of cold. Walking home from the bus stop at 4 p.m. in the dark, wondering if every shadow was, in fact, a moose cow or her cubs (at times it was!); blowing hot air onto the frozen cuffs of my sopping wet mittens to ease the stinging pain in my wrists; slamming the car into the icy ditch more than a few times while driving in white-out conditions – these experiences are not the memories dreams are made of.
Green and blue
Of course there were many warm and fuzzy memories too, but most of them didn’t involve snow. I still remember the awe of my first green Christmas, my first Christmas away from home – no snow on the ground by December 24 in central Alberta? It was almost too good to be true! It’s a little odd to call such a phenomenon “green” because almost everything was brown and very lifeless, and the farmers were quite clear about the future ramifications of a low snowfall. Certainly the landscape was not as pretty as the pristine snow that arrived a few days later, but I still reveled in being free – at least for a few more days – from the claustrophobic feelings that usually arrive with the first snowfall.
It was many years later that I was first introduced to the concept of “Blue Christmas” – and no, it has nothing to do with jazz music or Elvis Presley. For many people, the holidays can bring on or intensify mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. Research shows lack of sunlight from shorter days can have a direct impact on mood, causing decreased Vitamin D levels and limiting our ability to get physical activity – both important factors in releasing the feel-good hormones that keep us cheerful and happy. Another part of the problem, according to Adam K. Anderson, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, is the bombardment of media during the holidays showing images of smiling families and friends. This can contribute to feelings of loneliness or a sense of inadequacy regarding one’s personal relationships. Individuals may see other people spending time with friends and family and ask themselves, “Why can’t that be me?” or “Why is everyone else so much happier than I am?”
Additionally, the Christmas season can be a painful reminder of the past for some people. This is especially true for people who have experienced a significant loss of a loved one, or for those who might have experienced a traumatic childhood and prefer not to walk down memory lane. For broken families the holiday season brings with it the extra baggage of tough decisions like choosing where to spend Christmas morning, how to juggle multiple Christmas dinners or sitting through awkward family photographs.
Some churches, like Immanuel CRC in Hamilton, Ont. are responding to this reality by hosting a “Blue Christmas” service during Advent, where members are invited to mourn, privately or publicly, the loss that is felt so keenly during this time. Pastor Henry Kranenburg explains, “A blue Christmas service is a way to face Christmas with integrity, and admit the loss or the negatives and maybe in that way be better enabled to embrace the positive of Christ and community more genuinely; to recognize and give permission to talk about the person or loss or grief, and then to invite all of us to bind our wounds as best we can and celebrate that we have a saviour, and we have hope even when there is still grief.”
Black and blue
The materialism of the season can leave some of us feeling empty as well – literally, as we spend everything we have in an effort to buy the happiness that we are assured will be produced by full stockings, large gift boxes and the most Pinterest-worthy decorations to adorn our houses, yards and even – where will it stop? – our cars. We know in our hearts it’s not about the perfect tree or the newest toy, but somehow we feel like we’re missing out if the gift we bought our child doesn’t produce the same “ahhh” as the TV ad promised it would. And so we buy into the Black Friday mentality that more is better, not realizing that the blackest part is the gaping hole in our spirits that can never be filled by the things money can buy.
Carel Geleynse, Director/Pastor of Pastoral Care at Community CRC in Kitchener, Ont. says it like this: “Many people are unable to connect with ‘fake cheer’ because that is not what they are experiencing in life. I think often of this manufactured cheer and the real reason Jesus came. We celebrate Jesus’ birth and his incarnation, but it was all part of his suffering. Behind the wonder of the incarnation is the shadow of sin and death. Thinking about this ought to make us lament the darkness, the fallenness, the sinfulness of this world. In Advent we have a heightened sense of the mess of this world and what the Lord is doing to correct it and to make all things new.”
And there is no shortage of cause for lament this year. In a world that has Christians arguing over a red coffee cup and whether or not Starbucks has waged a war on Christmas by removing any obvious Christmas symbols from their new design, maybe we should be longing for a different kind of White Christmas. While social media profile pictures are painted red, white and blue in support of the people of France, but whose status updates tinge yellow at the thought of opening our borders as we claim there’s no room in our inn for innocent people fleeing from that same violence, perhaps we begin to grasp the need for a Saviour to be born. As the number of pink and blue flags representing aborted babies grows by thousands each year, and as we wear ribbons of every colour in hopes of finding a cure for deadly cancers, it is hard not to cry “Come quickly, Lord Jesus! Turn our darkness into Light!”
So as we wait in this scarlet red mess, our longing deepens for the One who can transform it, and us, to become as white as snow. No more death, no more tears, no more pain. I’m dreaming of that kind of White Christmas.
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