A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Christmas: a Time of Joy and of Loss

by Anne Kerrigan

There is a season for everything,
a time for every occupation under heaven.

A time for embracing
and a time to refrain from embracing.

A time for losing
and for keeping, a time for letting go.

There is a season for everything. Ecclesiastes 3

It is November, and the stores are already in full swing for the Christmas season. Decorated trees, snowmen, angels, wrapping paper, toys, and ornaments fill the aisles. The clothing sales are on glorious display, and the sales abound.

I have always loved the Christmas season. The spirituality of this time of year thrills me, reminding me of the beauty of the Incarnation. For me, the spirituality of the season is clearly manifested in the gracious generosity of people towards one another. The gifts shared are but a reflection of the gift of the Son. I totally embrace the joy of the season.

I always enjoyed Christmas shopping for the family, especially the grandchildren. I thrill to see piles of boxes under the tree. Since I am a great shopper, I have managed to get lots and lots of presents at very reasonable prices. What looks like massive overspending is not. It is actually the result of my shopping skills which benefit the family and others in need such as the names on our parish tree. The Irish actor, Liam Neeson, threatened kidnappers in the 2008 movie Taken, with the classic lines, ‘I do have a very particular set of skills. Skills I have developed over a long career.’ While the circumstances are different, I can relate. I have honed my own shopping skills over a large part of my adult life, and they have kept me in good stead.

All in all, I just become intoxicated with the joy and anticipation of serving others during the Christmas season. I was never a shopper just for the sake of shopping. It was always with the other in mind, and it was a part of the joy and the generosity of the season for me. 

But, not now.

Unfortunately, circumstances have totally changed my approach to the season. My husband and I have both had some health issues, and neither of us is as nimble as in days of yore. Our combined energy levels have reached a low point. The strength needed to organise the list, pursue the sales, wrap the gifts, delegate which package is for whom, and then deliver them to the appropriate locations, is now beyond us. That is a hard fact to internalise. While I understand intellectually the issues involved, it is precipitating emotional chaos within me. The letting-go process, which is a normal and vital part of life, has reached my Christmas season! It is so painful to admit that this is what is happening to me.

Additionally, the grandchildren are getting older, and I have become somewhat out of touch with the current styles and fads. If I see what I think is an adorable shirt, it may not be what my granddaughter thinks is adorable. It was so much easier to shop for them when they were young! Now, it is the world of electronics, even for the younger ones. I can barely manage to understand my cell phone, never mind try to understand the new gadget market. The world is moving very quickly, and I fear that I am lagging behind. Even the modern electronic vocabulary leaves me bewildered. I cannot comprehend gigabits, cable speed, or any of the other phrases which dot the modern electronic landscape. How can I possibly go Christmas shopping? I am like a babe in the woods. In a current television commercial, we hear a portion of a telephone exchange between an adult daughter and her mother. ‘Mom,’ the daughter says, ‘Wifi is not a question. It’s a thing.’ I can relate to that mother! What happened to socks, shirts, pyjamas, and underwear for Christmas? All gone.

Therefore, I must resort to gift cards. I hate it, for many reasons. It seems thoughtless and cold, exhibiting a lack of caring. Of course, the grandchildren love the gift cards! But, I know that I would be able to get at least twice as many items for that same amount of money because I know I am better at shopping than they are. I also know they must learn the ways of the consumer, and they must learn how to become effective and intelligent shoppers, but I cringe at the thought of their learning. I don’t know how long the learning curve will be for them. But, as I had to learn, so must they. Then, I must also accept the fact that they may never learn how to shop for a sale, nor care to. Now that would be painful! Lord, it is hard to let go!

So, Christmas is now very different for me. I don’t think I ever lost the spirituality of the season, but this year I will be losing the shopping dynamics of the season. I believe that God is present in every situation in our lives, with every situation ready to teach us something about our relationship with God.

Yes, Christmas is very different for me. No more shopping, no more frenetic activity, no more mall-walking listening to the lovely Christmas music, no more mounds under the tree. It is a reminder, a lesson for me to remember that all things will pass. My prayer is simple. It is a thank you to God for this season of joy and loss.

As Ecclesiastes reminds us, There is a season for everything under the sun.   

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