Christmas Blues: Joy to our World?

by Reverend Charles Bidwell, Ph.D.

Christmas makes me sad. It's not supposed to. But it does. It's getting so there are more things I dislike about Christmas than there are things I like. Maybe I've just lost the spirit and the hope that's supposed to be present at the darkest time of the year in Edmonton.

Christmas is a time to give, 'they' tell us and the commercialization of the whole gift-giving thing has got me down. I dread having to go shopping for people when I don't have a clue what they would appreciate. I wander aimlessly and with growing frustration at the surveying and selecting process. I sometimes get what I'd like to get but not even that is satisfying. I've even written and asked my cousin and brother if we couldn't just stop buying gifts for each other (perhaps continue for the children but even then I have no idea what they would now enjoy) - they live back east and never communicate. It's like a duty or obligation and my heart's not in it any more. I love to give something to someone when I have a good idea what they want or need but setting out because I feel obligated to buy someone something when I have no idea as to what that something is that they would appreciate drains me. Please don't give me anything out of obligation or guilt.

I live in hope because I see more people just sending a card or making a simple gift (a jar of preserves, some home-made fudge, a poem, a story, a drawing, a jar of cashews, a special soap, a candle, a personal certificate for a service you'll render, a little extravagance someone would not usually get for themselves). There is hope that I will be free to give without guilt or not give without shame.

Christmas is a time for family, 'they' tell us but I sense so much pain around those friends who have families who have rejected them or families who do not welcome their partners. I hear their horror stories of each having to go to their own blood relatives when their hearts are torn apart because they would really rather be together. They go "home" out of duty and family pressure to please a parent even when that parent has forbidden their soul-mate to come home with them. There are also those people who feel that they don't have, or actually do not have, a family to share the Christmas time with. I'd invite them to connect with someone else who feels the same way and resolve to spend some time together.

I live in hope as I work at creating my own "family of choice" until being with my blood relatives is a joy. There is hope when we reach out beyond ourselves. Its hard to spread affection around without getting some in return; for every hug you give you usually get one or more in return. And when you offer to massage someone's shoulders, have you ever had them reject the gift.

Christmas is a time for love for all humans, 'they' tell us and I'm sad that it comes so slowly and evaporates so quickly. We see hampers made and given and toys collected and given and two weeks later we're back in our comfortable ruts and never thinking about the marginalized and impoverished in our community.

I see hope in that the Bissell Centre and the Inner City Pastoral Care group feed over 250 people lunch every Sunday of the year. I see hope when people call and find out how they can help with that "kitchen" ministry to others. I see hope when more people volunteer an evening a week or a time on the weekend to help out at the AIDS hostle or the gay and lesbian community centre or some church or other service agency all year long. That's loving more than once a year; that's what true Christmas spirit is - a giving of self all year long. It's also a great way to meet other giving people who are also volunteering.

Christmas makes me sad, when I think of all the people who are depressed by what they don't have at Christmas. They see images of happy families and generous friends and don't experience these themselves. They don't see any hope for the future and Christmas just makes them feel that despair more keenly. I've been there. I even contemplated suicide once when I felt trapped in a society that condemned who I was and when I saw no way that I would be loved as the gay man I am. Thank God I didn't carry my thoughts through to action. I can't recall what kept me going, but I have seen enough change in society over the last half century to have great hope that we are learning and growing in spirit. I experience that Edmonton is a better place to live than it was when I came here 25 years ago. Maybe it takes some perspective to see the slow progress, but progress is there. This Christmas I'll be sad but I'll also be glad that I'm a valued volunteer and have a chosen family to spend time with singing carols and playing games. That's my prayer for all of us - offering ourselves as a gift to one another all year long; that will really bring "joy to our world!"