Before getting deep, I thought I would share a video of the song “Blue Christmas” performed by Postmodern Jukebox.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve walked past someone and have either been on the receiving or engaging side of the phrase that’s used to start the world’s shortest conversation, “How are you doing?” We’ve all said what most people say when we hear “How are you doing?” We respond by saying, “Fine thank you. And you?” Day after day this short and sometimes obligatory dialogue occurs hundred of thousands of times without people really thinking about what they’re really asking the other person.
One day while working at a daycare a child came in and we greeted them with a warm welcome and smiles on our faces. But this child who was usually energetic just stood at the door with a tired look on their face. My coworker proceeded to ask, “How are you doing today?” to which the child continued staring into space with the same look as before. Their parent then said, “Well… What do you say? You say, ‘I’m good, thank you.” And then with forced energy, the child proceeded to greet the both of us before playing with a variety of toys.
I won’t forget what the parent said to the child… “Well… What do you say? You say, ‘I’m good, thank you.” It was clear that the child was not doing good. Maybe they had a hard day at preschool… Maybe they were feeling under the weather… Maybe they just woke up from a nap and they wished that their parent had let them continue to sleep instead of waking them up. Either way… I could imagine that the child wasn’t feeling good, but was still forced to grin and say, “I’m good, thank you.”
For some, the night before Christmas will not be filled with glee or anticipation for the Christmas morning to come. For some, the night before Christmas will be the longest night of the year. For some, the night before Christmas is a painful reminder that the next morning they will spend another Christmas without a loved one. And for some, for many, Christmas is a time that may not be so “merry and bright.” For people who are ill, for people who are struggling to find employment, for people who are worried about whether or not they will have a place to live, Christmas may not seem like such a cheery time of year.
As someone who has lost a father, I can speak from my own experience that on Christmas morning I still feel a sense of loss. It’s not that I can’t celebrate with my mother and sister, but there is the ever present reality that things are not the same as they used to be, things have changed. And while my story is not shared by all, it is an example how each and everyone one of us comes from a different place with a different story to tell.
Maybe this is why it is so important for churches and other religious organizations to create a space for people for whom Christmas may not be a joyous time of year. For many churches, this comes in the form of having a “Blue Christmas” service with language and liturgy that is crafted to be aware of the pain and loss that people experience during this time of year.
And so here is my point… words matter… our language matters… and so does the way that we think about how words should be used. I can’t promise that I will stop saying, “How are you?,” but I can promise that I will work hard to sincerely mean what I say when I ask this question. I don’t want people to feel forced into giving a response that has been reduced to a common courtesy. The words we use are impactful, and this is true with how we greet one another at during this Christmas season.
While I don’t think there is anything wrong with saying “Merry Christmas,” I do think we have to be aware of who we say it too. Because as I said before, for many Christmas is not a time for being “merry.” Instead, it might be a time of job searching or trying to figure out a complicated medical plan of care or grieving the loss of someone who will not be with them on Christmas.
For many Christmas will be a time of joy and for many Christmas will be the opposite. May we show love and care for one another in a way that reflects the birth of Christ. And may we show love and care in a way that binds together both the joy of the incarnation and the grief and pain that Jesus carried and holds near knowing what it was like to walk in our pain and suffering.