“In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,In the bleak midwinter, long ago.”
So many Christmas songs are laden with cheer and hope. And they are lovely to sing at times. But there have been some Christmas seasons when I was much more like Scrooge than I like to admit. Not Scrooge in the way of not wanting to give gifts or anything, but more the “Bah Humbug” grumbling, bad mood about the whole month kind of thing. I can identify with “Christmas Shoes” lyrics: “It was almost Christmas time / There I stood in another line / Tryin’ to buy that last gift or two / Not really in the Christmas mood”.
Words of a more uncommon Advent hymn connect with me more on a number of years and levels. “Frosty wind made moan”… oh how windy nights just tip the scales of melancholy and loneliness for me. A lot of those in December. “Earth stood hard as iron” … frozen ground speaks to me of not even going outside, not even looking for things that might cheer me up. “Water like a stone” … it’s more like my heart was frozen, unable to thaw, stuck in place with no hope for spring. Do those words resonate with you? It’s OK in my book if they do. Probably a lot of us like that just sort of grinning and bearing it through another year of pass a cup of cheer.
I give you permission to crawl into bed and just hibernate for a little bit. Hey, if bears and groundhogs need to do it, why can’t we? But I hope you will then crawl out and give some additional thought to holiday cheer.
It’s easy when we feel overwhelmed, grumpy, depressed, anxious, lonely and sad to just hide from people. But people are actually our way out of the negative feelings. I had a friend who loved to invite me over on Sunday to hang out or take a nap. He gave me freedom to do either, or both. So even if I wasn’t in a great mood he gave me the gift of being whatever I was. Do you have a friend like that? Someone who gives you the space to be exactly as you are? Is there someone you can ask to be that kind of friend, someone to just be with and have the freedom to talk or not to? That was welcome holiday cheer for me.
There were some years that I didn’t have much money to give gifts. What I did instead was make a Christmas mix and burned about 50 copies, I created artwork for the packaging, and gave those as gifts. Many friends told me they kept those CDs for years. It was a simple, inexpensive gift, but because it was a labor of love for friends it got me out of thinking solely of myself for a period of time. Giving is quite therapeutic really. Baking with others in mind, creating something using your talents, sharing something given to you…all these help get you outside your head and problems for a little while. It is also very healing of your own soul to give. Giving can incubate holiday cheer.
Those bleak midwinter nights of pure chill…well I can’t complain too much. I grew up in San Francisco and that isn’t really all that cold. I just don’t like cold. But there is amazing beauty to find if you are willing to brave the cold and wander paths untraveled. Ice sculpture contests, holiday lights, waterfalls in winter, skiing, snowball fights, and many other things await that can bring a moment of delight. You may have to be intentional when it may not be something to naturally want to do, but getting outside even in the cold can lift your spirits. And lifted spirits are more likely to extend holiday cheer to others.
Again, it’s easy to want to hibernate when others seem so cheery and you are not feeling it. But if you are intentional in a couple of ways, even if you are in the middle of the blahs, you might start feeling a little thawing of your heart. Connect with friends that allow you to be your melancholy self, make a small goal of making or baking something to give, and get outside and breathe the brisk air while exploring some place new. If you can do that, you may even be able to say bah humbug with a smile on your face.
I leave you with a stanza from a 17th Century writer Samuel Rodigast’s poem Whate’er My God Ordains is Right.
“What God ordains is always good: He never will deceive me;He leads me in His righteous way, And never will He leave me.I take content What He has sent;His hand that sends me sadness Will turn my tears to gladness.”
God can turn sadness into gladness; bleak into hopeful. There is beauty to find and experience even when we are in the middle of a sad season of life. Even in the bleak midwinter there is reason to hope.