Blue Christmas? 

Eleanor Deckert
Blue Christmas? 

Elvis Presley sings about it.

Stan Rogers sings about it. Dolly Parton sings about it. Yes, at some time in our lives, we have each experienced a Blue Christmas.

Chocolates and cheer, music in the mall, cards and gifts, wrappings and decorations, cookies and cocoa, fancy clothes and yard lights... 'Jolly' seems inescapable. And yet, sometimes you just want to curl up and hibernate. Sometimes the heart is heavy. The clanging and glitter and expectations actually hurt.

Perhaps you are away from home for the first time. Perhaps there has been a death in the family. Perhaps divorce has reared its ugly head. Perhaps a loss of some other kind has recently occurred: an unfavourable diagnosis, the death of a pet, bad news from afar, financial or employment strains. Each of these are difficult to bear at any time of year. In contrast to “Ho-ho-ho” the emotions are very hard to handle.

During my blissful childhood, Christmas was bedecked with a tree, tinsel, and turkey. We went to church all dressed in new clothes. Songs were sung. Stockings were filled. Santa enjoyed the milk and cookies. Yes, it was all like a picture on a postcard: perfect.

Oh, I had one gloomy teenage Christmas, feeling sorry for myself, standing there in a warm church, surrounded by all that is familiar, well provided for, nothing to fear. I chalk that miserable one up to hormones. I had never experienced actual stress or loss, until…

That first newly-wed Christmas of 1978 (“10 Days in December - where dreams meet reality” conveys a full description). Far from family, down a long dirt road, nestled in our tiny log cabin, both so pleased to have accomplished so much in our first six months, and simultaneously suffering in isolation as the sweet memories of Christmas were all in the past.

Two years later, my parents separated at Christmastime (“10 Days in January”). Dizzy and disoriented, my siblings and I could hardly comprehend the negative reality that swirled amidst bows and bonbons.

Another year, death stripped away cheer. Grief eclipsed gifts. And later, a cancer diagnosis sent spinning any attempt to establish tidings of comfort and joy.

Poverty. That was a fact for us in 1978. I was earning $2.57 per hour as a waitress. Every penny went to food, gas and building supplies. I had not prepared one single thing for Christmas giving, feasting or treats. Clunk. My heart went deeply down. The radio blared Christmas cheer, which multiplied the distance between my expectations and my reality.

Is a cheerful Christmas celebration some strange distortion, completely staged, totally fake? I have struggled with these contrasts and come to this conclusion.

Wrapped in my sleeping bag, soaking my pillow with tears, wrestling within my mind, searching for some safe haven, I suddenly realize: Mary and Joseph experienced the depths of poverty that first Christmas.

Travelling from their home in Nazareth to Bethlehem with a near-term pregnancy was difficult enough. But, when they arrived in the town full of relatives, every door slammed shut.

Mary and Joseph needed the bare necessities: food, shelter, safety. Previously, the law declared that a woman who was pregnant out of wedlock was to be stoned to death. Later, King Herod's soldiers were commanded to kill all the baby boys in Bethlehem. They faced real life-and-death dangers.

Their experiences blaze the trail for overcoming my difficulties: poverty, rejection within the family, legal problems, health issues, persecution, homelessness, no stability, no clear direction.

Christmas cards depict beauty and serenity. But, the reality was harsh, lonely and hazardous. Why did Mary and Joseph keep going? How did they survive? How could they provide for this tiny new Baby when every force was tearing them down?

They believed they were not alone. They believed that they were in fact provided for, that God could reach down into their dire circumstances and still master the variables, leading them step by step, until they were safe, fed and sheltered.

Can I believe that, too? Does God see my unhappy situation? Can He provide guidance? Will I reach safety and peace of mind? Is there Hope?

Is sugar and shopping the reason we keep Christmas on the calendar? “Maybe,” to quote the Grinch, “Christmas perhaps doesn't come from the store? Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?”

As if to make up for the rejection and suffering Mary and Joseph experienced, our Christmas customs include generosity to the homeless and hungry, welcoming family, and extending our abundance to strangers.

One thing I have learned for sure and certain: as an antidote for my own problems, I can reach out and be of some service to others. This is the Joy I seek now. Not presents 'neath the tree with my name on them, but efforts I can make to bring a smile to another.

Maybe that's what the Little Lord Jesus did lying in that manger. He came into our darkness and offered us a smile.

Here's the meaning and message: Even in your deepest dark, you are not alone. His last words to us were, “Lo, I am with you always.” Matthew 28:20