How do you feel this Holiday?
I don’t live in Seattle, WA, which is known to be the cloudiest major city in the 48 states of America. They average 266 gray, cloudy days a year which means there are only 99 sunny days. But in North Carolina, where I am, this past week in December, we’ve only had a few peaks of sun rays through the gray clouds, but it can feel like a month!
Weather can cause us to feel dreary, but have you ever felt that way during the Christmas season even if it’s been sunny every day?
I recently read a post in The Habit Weekly by Jonathan Rogers. The title is “Melancholy Holiday” which grabbed my attention because “melancholy” is a good word to describe how I can sometimes feel during the Christmas season. Maybe you do, too. While the festive Christmas songs are played everywhere 24/7 from November until the day after Christmas, you can feel gloomy like a cold and gray winter day. You can’t necessarily think of any one thing making you feel that way though, you just do.
And why? Christmas is supposed to be one of the happiest times of the year, isn’t it? At least according to commercials on screens and the Christmas songs on the radio.
Of course, there are reasons to feel down during the holidays. It could be the first (or any) Christmas without a loved one. Or the year your ex-spouse has your kids on Christmas day. Or a family member or friend is stationed overseas and won’t be home for Christmas, or you might be battling a longtime illness or someone close to you has only a few more days left on this Earth.
But if you’re not facing any obstacles, yet still feel like you’re gonna’ “have a blue Christmas” during the holiday season, why? You might be experiencing a melancholy holiday as Roger states.
The definition of melancholy, according to the Oxford dictionary is, “a feeling of pensive sadness, typically with no obvious cause”.
Sometimes I feel melancholy during the holiday because I miss the traditions we once had, or because my dad isn’t with us anymore in person. Other times I feel flustered because it’s been a long, difficult year and I’m ready to start a new one. Perhaps the lack of sleep due to the lengthy to-do list and extra events added to my calendar, or I struggle with gift ideas to give others. Over the past few years, I feel either irritated or heartbroken because there obviously isn’t much merriness, joy, or peace on this Earth we live on.
The “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” song I hear in December has a stanza that describes a reason why we can feel melancholy:
“In despair, I bowed my head,
‘There is no peace on Earth,’ I said,
For hate is strong and mocks the song
of peace on Earth, goodwill to men.”
Those words can become so loud in my head – “there is no peace…for hate is strong”. Isn’t that true in this day and age?
I long for there to be true peace on this Earth as we celebrate Christmas. (And every day.)
That’s why we find ourselves feeling melancholy during the Advent season. We long to be saved from the darkness we live in. We long to feel deep peace and joy.
That same desire is how the people felt during the Old Testament and the Gospel times in history. Isaiah wrote around 700 B.C.,
“…the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:2)
And Zechariah sang this song when he was filled with the Holy Spirit around 6 B.C.:
“…because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79)
We have the same longing they did. We long for Jesus to arrive and bring light into this dark world. The word melancholy comes from the Greek word “mela” which means “black”. When you are in a closed room with no windows and no light whatsoever, when you look around with your eyes open, all you see is pitch blackness or darkness. But, if you light a tiny flame in that dark room, the entire room will light up because light is stronger than darkness.
Dr. Betsy Barber, the Associate Director of the Institute for Spiritual Formation at Biola University explained in the Center for Christianity Culture and the Arts (CCCA) Advent Project,
“The older I get, the more I long to see Jesus.” She continues and writes, “Psychologically speaking, one of the indicators of maturity is the ability to delay gratification – to wait patiently with desire, yet to wait in hope. It takes maturity to be able to tolerate that tension of unfulfilled longing.”
Abraham, Job, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, Zechariah, and countless other people who lived in ancient times and believed in God had developed the art of tolerating the tension of unfulfilled longing with hope. Hope in the Messiah’s arrival.
And ever since God stooped down and gently and lowly became flesh, and walked on this Earth, and gave His life for our salvation, resurrected, and ascended to heaven - the rest of the countless people who’ve walked this Earth since then, have also lived with hope in the Messiah’s arrival – His second.
Waiting a long time for that gift of true peace on this Earth can form some melancholy holiday feelings, especially at Christmastime. The nights are longer in December, we’re reminded of the darkness of the world that Jesus was born into. Yes, we’re also given the gift of hope, faith, and love. The tiny, twinkling lights on our trees, the anticipation in the excitement of children, the generosity of giving that births joy in our souls – those are what give us HOPE to continue to hold on a little longer for our Savior’s arrival.
So, friends, consider it a gift from Jesus, if you ever have mixed feelings of joy and melancholy during the holidays. Holidays are really holy-days, and have you noticed how the word holy is in melancholy? There’s no gift under your Christmas tree that can give us the deep longing and desire to be with God. The “mela-black feeling” moments we have are married to holiness.
That is a holy gift. God’s holy presence is with us in the dark crevasses of our souls whether it be during the holidays or any other season in our lives. Let us remember that God, Emmanuel, is always with us, though.
Thank you, God, for the gift of melancholy longing to be in Your presence this holiday. During this Christmas season, may we also feel and experience the HOPE, JOY, and PEACE that we can only receive from You. When we are faithful to Your Word, we cling to the promise that You will give us that priceless gift of eternal life with You. Thank you for stooping down to be with us always. You are still the Light of this dark world. Amen.