Last night my wife Lou Alice got to talking about the melancholy that she has often felt during the holidays. For most of her life, she said, she assumed there was something wrong with her when she didn’t feel as hap-hap-happy as she thought she was supposed to feel during the happiest time of the year. Were her joy receptors off? Was she just ungrateful?
When she became a mother, that holiday melancholy translated into a kind of overachievement; she worked herself to a nub in an effort to make sure nobody had to experience the holiday sadness she was so familiar with.
But in the last few years Lou Alice has come to understand her own holiday melancholy differently: it’s a reminder that we all long for a joy that is deeper and fuller than a holly jolly Christmas. That melancholy is a clue, a signpost.
In her book Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ (a book I heartily commend to you), Fleming Rutledge writes,
Even as the season outside gets more exuberantly festive, those who observe Advent within the Christian community are convicted more and more each year by the truth of what is going on inside—inside the church as she refuses cheap comfort and sentimental good cheer. Advent begins in the dark.
Advent is not only a time to imagine what it would have been like to await the first coming of Jesus. It is a time to acknowledge that we do await the second coming of Jesus. Advent begins in the dark and moves toward the light. (In two weeks the days start getting longer—praise be!) Here in the bleak midwinter, it is appropriate to take stock of the truth that we really do need a Savior.
If you experience melancholy this time of year, I hope you’ll consider the possibility that your holiday melancholy is not a bug, but a feature.