This week, I became reacquainted with a particular sadness – one that I had forgotten about until it presented itself again from my store of memories. I first felt it when I was a child, maybe ten years old. Tucked into bed and trying to get to sleep, I could not shake a profound sense of grief that Christmas was over. There would be no more carols playing on the hi-fi. Decorations had unceremoniously been boxed up and put away, and the tree – so full of color and sparkle and life – was dry and discarded, lying on its side at the edge of the front lawn. I still had the gifts I received on Christmas morning, but they seemed a poor consolation for the loss of the season itself.
When you are a child, the length of time between Christmases seems like an eternity because those early years are all significant slices of your young life. And for me, the end-of-Christmas grief was punctuated by the fact that the “free church” tradition in which I was raised reduced Christmas to only one day. All the anticipation, all the excitement, all the magic built up over the previous few weeks was expended in one morning of wide-eyed delight over treasures that had been left under the tree, some wrapped in colorful paper and bows, others on full display just waiting to be enjoyed. As I remember, my family kept our tree up until New Year’s Day, but many of our neighbors tossed theirs to the curb on the 26th. And the few of us who tried to keep a “season” of Christmas knew our efforts were futile. For all intents and purposes, the holiday was over. No radio station was still playing carols. We didn’t even continue to sing them at church. “Merry Christmas” gave way to “Happy New Year” before Santa had time to get back to the North Pole.
After thirty years of ministry and leading congregations through Advent and Christmastide, and also knowing intellectually that Christmas returns ever more quickly as we get older, I don’t usually feel grief when the tree comes down and the decorations are put away. (Well, maybe a tiny pang, but nothing more.) There was a point this week, however, when I palpably relived the pain of the little boy sobbing himself to sleep while fading images of Dickensian carolers and receding echoes of their joyous strains filled his mind. Even though our tree is still up and we’ll continue to sing carols in church on Sunday, I can’t deny a sense of loss knowing that Christmas is quickly ebbing away.
Why this year? Well, my grief is at least partially the result of how rarely we have