Christmas doesn’t have to be blue

“I’ll have a bluuuue Christmas without youuuuu….” Today I was traveling home from Boston on business. I was at my gate, at the far end of the terminal from where the security entrance is. Christmas music quietly filled the air, as I waited for my flight. A family came up to where I was sitting and chose the area around me to sit down. I overheard one woman say, “I wanted to sit back here to get away from the Christmas music.” Unfortunately for her, there was Christmas music, so they moved. “How sad,” I thought, “It’s the holidays, and we should be enjoying them.” I guess they didn’t feel that way.

The stress of the holidays – the pressure of shopping, cooking, baking, sending out Christmas cards (or Hanukkah, if you prefer!), traveling and making sure everyone sees you as happy as you want to see everyone else, can be overwhelming. Especially in times of a tough economy, this pressure can lead to sadness or even depression. It’s hard enough for us to be our best self the rest of the year, and suddenly we’re expected to ooze perfect love, harmony and Peace on Earth. Instead, we sometimes find ourselves pulling our hair out by the roots and wishing it were January! (well, maybe April or May – January is too cold!) A church I know in Pennsylvania has a Blue Christmas service the first Sunday in December for people who don’t like dealing with the holidays.

This past Black Friday, I sat in the comfort of my home and kept up with the updates from my friends on Facebook as they got up at some ungodly hour after enjoying their Thanksgiving meal to spend the night, and much of the following day, catching bargains. Nearly every day, I see and hear people fretting over the gifts they need to buy. Some folks are already busy baking holiday cookies. True, Christmas is only 16 days away, so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised.

I used to get all wound up at the holidays. When I was a teenager, before Black Friday became such an obsession, I would go to the mall and scope out all of the stores to get ideas. I liked the hustle and bustle and the holiday decorations. I wouldn’t buy anything. I would simply weave through the crowds from store to store to see what there was to see, and to get inspiration. After doing this, I’d have an idea of what to buy, and then I’d go back another day with the exact route I needed to take to gather up everything I needed as quickly as I could. And hope to Goodness that I hadn’t accidentally forgotten anyone!

My mom was always one to make a big deal out of Christmas Eve. She would bake and cook and buy gifts, and then we’d all go to her place, and drive her crazy as three different conversations went on at the same time, and she couldn’t keep track of any of them. When we were kids, there was nothing that pleased her more than to see the excitement on our faces as we came into the living room to find what Santa had brought us. As we got older, the tradition lived on. Christmas Eve was Mom’s day, and it was at her place where we spent our time with our now extended family.

About ten years ago, my mother decided that she wasn’t buying Christmas gifts anymore. She found that she was buying gifts just for the sake of having something to give. Some people in my family would accept the gifts she gave without even a “thank you.” So she stopped. Why put herself through the pressure of “performing” for the holidays when her actions were full of unfulfilling emptiness? We still went to her place, but the rule was no gifts – just some nice snacks and time to visit with family. We still had three conversations at a time, but somehow, it seemed a little easier for her to deal with, and it was easier for her to send us home when she got tired of it all!

When Mom stopped the gifts, I took her cue, and did the same. I stopped buying gifts just for the sake of buying. Now if I see something I know a family member or loved one would appreciate, I buy it and give it, no matter the season or the occasion. Christmas is when I want it to happen! At (the real) Christmas, I exchange one gift with the one person in my life who is most important, and that’s it. If I feel like it, I send Christmas cards. If I don’t, it might be New Year cards. Or it might be a phone call or an e-mail. For a while, I had fun making my own Christmas cards, until I found myself getting in the same rut of feeling like I was doing it just for the sake of doing it. My friends and family know I love them, and I try to let them know when the time is right, not necessarily when the calendar says I’m supposed to!

My mom taught me that Christmas isn’t about what you buy or bake or cook or spend. It is about love. Take the opportunity to be with your family and loved ones. If you feel you need to give something, be creative and make something yourself, with love from your heart. Don’t waste your money on gifts unless you know it is something that someone really needs or will appreciate. It isn’t about what you spend, it’s about the love with which it is given and with which time is spent. And most importantly, don’t be driven by the commercials on TV. Christmas can be any day, or every day, if you want it to be. It makes it easier to find the true spirit of what it’s all about, not what the TV and Madison Avenue say it should be. And if the holidays bother you that much, find a friend who feels the same way and spend the holidays somewhere where it’s warm, where you can sit on the beach with a cocktail in your hand, pretending that Christmas is six months away! Whatever you choose to do, do it because you want to do it, not because you have to do it, and you won’t be disappointed!

Don’t be blue. Don’t be depressed. Don’t be stressed. More importantly, don’t just sit and wish that the holidays were over. There’s a silver lining in every cloud, and there doesn’t even have to be a cloud in the first place unless you create one for yourself. The joy of Christmas is what you choose to make of it. It’s as simple or as complicated as you want it to be, no more no less. Make the holidays what you want them to be, and when you want them to be, and you will find satisfaction in that. Even if it’s inviting your friends who have nothing else to do and eating fried chicken and biscuits from a fast food place – or doing nothing at all!

On a rare occasion during the holidays, I will hear “Let There Be Peace on Earth” by Gladys Knight and the Pips. It’s one of my favorite hymns any time of the year, and it’s a sure way to beat the holiday blues if you can learn to live by it: “Let There Be Peace on Earth and Let It Begin With Me.”

Blessings to you and yours as you find the true meaning and joy of the holiday season in your heart.