Being Sad at Christmastime

It was probably about six or seven years ago that I began to notice a strong undercurrent of sadness in myself around the holidays. I can’t say that I could pinpoint its origin; in fact, it had probably been there quite a while longer. 

The stranger thing was, I liked it.  It seemed right. 

Advertisement

As I started to pay more attention to that wellspring in subsequent holidays I noticed most of the Christmas songs or movies that I loved, if they were indeed “happy”, were only so in a wistful kind of way. (A notable exception: “Love Actually”, which I watch every year – though come to think of it the moment I relish most is probably Emma Thompson standing next to her bed listening to Joni Mitchell and fighting off tears as she realizes her marriage is not what she thought it was. I really am all in on a good Christmas sad, aren't I...)

Rather than the big and flashy candy colored productions I wanted as a kid, Christmas seems to me now more a time for solitude, a chance to acknowledge the losses or burdens of the year, the place and people that were now absent.

Now everything around us says that’s wrongheaded. Christmas is family. Christmas is light. Christmas is joy. And that’s true even, maybe especially, in the Church; what kind of maudlin sad sack of a priest preaches “Merry Christmas; might be time for a good cry, or a little time alone”?

But maybe the sadness that some of us feel at the holidays is not self-pity but invitation. There was a great Maryland province Jesuit named Horace McKenna who spent a good part of his life working with the poor and homeless in Washington, D.C. He once had this to say:

“When God lets me into Heaven, I think I’ll ask to go off in a corner somewhere for half an hour and sit down and cry because the strain is off, the work is done, and I haven’t been unfaithful or disloyal. All these needs that I have known are in the hands of Providence and I won’t have to worry any longer who’s at the door, whose breadbox is empty, whose baby is sick, whose house is shaken and discouraged, and whose children can’t read.”

At Christmas we celebrate the Incarnation, the presence of God in our midst. And while one impulse in that situation is to bring gifts, another I think is that of McKenna – we have the sense that we can lay our burdens down for a bit. We don’t have to be strong or put on a happy face. We can go off in a corner with the Lord somewhere, share our losses, our pain or our exhaustion, and just have a good cry.

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened," says Jesus, "and I will give you rest.”

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Barbara DeCoursey Roy
3 years 3 months ago
Best homily I have heard this season. I have had my own holiday blues. When I gave myself time for tears, I was able to feel the truth of "Blessed are the poor in spirit."

Advertisement

The latest from america

Join Kirsten Powers, CNN analyst and USA Today columnist, and Rev. James Martin, S.J., Editor at Large of America Media and New York Times best-selling author, for a live show celebrating the 100th episode of Jesuitical.
America Media EventsApril 24, 2019

Some three months before Neil Armstrong stepped off the ladder of the lunar module and left his footprints upon the surface of the moon in July, 1969, and uttered those immortal words about it being but “one small step for man” and yet “a giant leap for mankind,” a young, brown-haired, freckle-

Joseph McAuleyApril 18, 2019
You give us hope when we’re reporting on challenging issues in the church.
James Cappabianca April 18, 2019
For decades, Lopez has sought to re-establish our ethical relationships with the land and the other creatures who dwell on it. But Lopez, like many authors, struggles against labels.
Vincent J. MillerApril 18, 2019