It is likely a reflection of my personality that, as much as I love the holidays, I’ve always found them bittersweet… and as I get older, it is truer than ever.
My precious Christmas memories are further behind me and just a little dimmer. More of the actors in those memories are no longer with us and I find myself slowing down, unable (or unwilling?) to keep the holiday pace I used to. And this year, we have the heartache of the tragedy in Newtown. It is easy to find myself feeling melancholy instead of joyful.
Of course, I’m not alone. If you take a moment to listen to the words to some of our cherished Christmas songs, you’ll see that they bring a little heartache with the smiles. After all, we’re dreaming of a white Christmas just like the ones we used to know. We’ll be home for Christmas, if only in our dreams. There’s a little heartache in the heart of the 92 year old when Nat King Cole wishes merry Christmas to kids from 1 to 92. He knows he’s not a kid anymore. And at the source, the holiday celebrates the birth of a child that we know will be crucified for His teachings.
Still, there’s no doubt about it — this Christmas is different.
To be sure, families are still gathering to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and to exchange Christmas gifts. People are reaching out, helping those in need to have a brighter Christmas Day. Stores and shops are decorated for the holidays, and Christmas carolers are out and about.
Church bells are ringing… but the horrific event in Newtown, Conn., a little over a week ago still hangs heavy on the hearts and minds of people not just in America but around the globe.
Most everyone is trying to make sense of a tragedy where there’s no sense to be made. How does one make sense of the killing of 20 6- and 7-year-olds and six adults who valiantly tried to protect them? The killings caused unimaginable pain for the families of the victims, shattered a community and shocked the nation. The killings brought tears to the eyes of a president.
In an instant, the nation turned its attention away from the fast-approaching “fiscal cliff” and looked toward Newtown, Conn., and Sandy Hook Elementary School. There were heart-rending scenes of surviving children being hurried off school grounds amid the chaos of a horrific crime scene — police, ambulance crews and other first-responders. Sirens wailing. The dead still in the school. In the days that followed, thoughts of holiday parades were supplanted by sights of a seemingly endless parade of hearses taking precious children to their final resting place.
Meanwhile, the tragedy has confounded politicians and policy makers in Washington, who have responded with heartfelt words but not much more.
The nation is not immune to such tragedies. Goodness knows, we survived the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, when the death toll was so much greater.
Many died in the 9/11 attacks — even some children. But Newtown, where children were specifically targeted and brutalized in a ghastly way by a crazed gunman, stands apart from other tragedies the nation has had to endure.
Christmas celebrations will go on. People will praise God for the many blessings he bestowed upon them. Their faith will comfort them.
Still, today’s holiday won’t be quite the same because of the dark day in Connecticut.
I know this is kind of gloomy, especially during a time that is so traditionally associated with all things bright and beautiful… I reckon a carol with the title “Have Yourself a Melancholy Christmas” would be unlikely to make it as a traditional holiday song.
But if I don’t let the melancholy in, I’m unlikely to have a merry little Christmas either. Joy and sadness are inextricably linked and to the degree that I repress one, I repress the other.
All the same, Christmas is a package deal … and I intend to open it.