Spiritual Side Colin Noonan

Let the countdown begin! As of today, it’s officially T-minus (take 25, then subtract today’s date) days until Christmas. Are the stockings hung? Lights up? Christmas cards in the mail? Regardless if you’re prepared or not, the “most wonderful time of the year” is in full swing.

Some of my greatest memories growing up were from late December. The anticipation of Christmas morning combined with the sights and smells that, let’s be honest, make up so much of what the holidays are have always been some of the best moments to reflect on. But growing up, I also saw Christmas portrayed in two different lights, most of which were in movies and TV shows; joyful and miserable. While Christmas as a child growing up seemed magical, others didn’t seem to enjoy it quite as much. The question had to be asked — how could anyone NOT love Christmas?

Sadly, the answer to that question became clearer as I got older. I’ve come to understand how Christmas has this overwhelming ability to bring out not just the best in us, but also the worst. While some look forward to Christmas, depression statistics reportedly increase every December. According to Psychology Today, one North American survey shows that 45 percent of those who responded dread the arrival of Christmas. Regardless of our intentions to celebrate and enjoy the holidays, the “Hap–happiest season of all” may actually be a season where many are just trying to survive.

I’m sure there’s no unanimous reason among those who experience depression this time of the year, but it’s not hard to see why those statistics are real. If we’re not careful, the season of joy and giving can quickly turn into a season of stress and exhaustion. Our finances, schedules, and emotions are all spread thin, all while we try to balance the demands of family, friends, and travel. So when the baking, shopping, social functions, and credit card bills start piling up, it’s easy to shift our focus from the joy of Christmas to ourselves.

If you’re like me, there’s a sincere desire to keep your eyes on the beauty of the true meaning of Christmas. But if you’re also like me, consumerism seems to compete with the Christmas story in scripture every year. No matter how I change my approach, it’s still easy to get caught up in the version of Christmas that stretches me emotionally and financially. But as believers who want to see Christmas remain rooted in joy, peace, and the celebration of Emmanuel, it starts with us. God has spoken in His gift to us in Christ, and He calls us to respond in joy and thankfulness. Easier said than done — but it’s possible.

If I could offer any advice not just to survive this Christmas, but enjoy it, it would be to set boundaries and give generously. It’s OK to pick and choose which Christmas parties to attend and set budget boundaries on gifts. And spending less does not mean you’re not generous. It means you’re financially responsible. Generosity can be expressed through time, thoughtfulness and love — not just finances. But where you do choose to give, give generously, and to those in need. Giving at Christmas isn’t commercial — it’s Biblical. “For God so loved the world, that he GAVE his only Son…” (John 3:16).

This Christmas, I’m praying you experience the gift, the joy, and the meaning of Christmas where it was meant to be experienced — the birth of Jesus.

• Colin Noonan is director of youth ministries at Mountain View Lutheran Church in Ahwatukee. Reach him at cnoonan@mvlutheran.org.

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