Let’s be honest, the day after Christmas can be a real bummer. We anxiously wait weeks, maybe even months for Christmas to arrive, and then it comes and goes just as fast as April 3rd, or July 7th, or any other day. We spend the Advent season counting down the days until Christmas, and perhaps our excitement peaks at the Christmas Eve service or while opening presents on Christmas day. And just as quickly as the day comes and goes, we are overcome with a sense of melancholy.
I think you know what I’m talking about. Maybe the melancholy hits when you wake up on December 26th and the Christmas tree is still there but it no longer holds the excitement that it did just a few short nights ago. Or maybe its the sound of non-Christmas music drifting past the nativity scene and leftover cookies. Sometimes the melancholy is found in empty boxes and torn up wrapping paper. Perhaps you start to feel some of this melancholy when you realize that another Christmas has come and gone and here you sit with an ever growing list of unfulfilled. We think of gifts not given, relationships not mended, dreams not realized, forgiveness not received, healing not found, and expectations not met.
Our unmet expectations are probably the chief cause of the post-Christmas blues. This will be the year that I finally get everything on my Christmas list! Or This will be the year that the whole family finally comes together and loves each other and never fights! Or This will be the year where everything comes together perfectly! Or, This will be the year when everything changes! These are, of course, outlandish and impossible expectations for any single holiday. Yet every year, these are the expectations that we enter into the Christmas season with. And every year, we can’t help but to walk away with a hint of disappointment.
The prevalence of the post-Christmas blues reveals something very important about our hearts. It reveals something very important about where we are placing our hope. If you are a follower of Christ, than the days following Christmas should be filled with anything but melancholy. These should be days of rejoicing! During the season of Advent we look forward not to the holiday of Christmas, but to the arrival of Christ. The purpose of Advent is to set our hopes and expectations on the coming King. If our hopes are set on anything less, than we are moving steadily towards disappointment. But with our hope set on Christ, the days after Christmas become some of our most cherished days. Because yesterday, today, and in days to come we have the joy of celebrating the fact that the King has come, and everything has changed!
In some parts of the Christian church, there is a tradition of fasting during Advent, and feasting on Christmas. What a beautiful idea. Fasting to be reminded of the emptiness that we face without Christ, and feasting in celebration of the fact that He has come, and is coming again. For centuries Christians celebrated Christmas in this way; with December 25th not as the culmination of the season but instead just the start of it! In many traditions, the next 12 days were dedicated to feasting and celebration, ending on the day of epiphany (January 6th).
There is something to be said for this pattern. It makes sense that the feasting should occur in the days AFTER Christ’s birth! If we mean what we say about Advent, that we are waiting on the birth of Christ, then the days following the celebration of his birth should be filled with joy, excitement, and thanksgiving.
I don’t expect anyone to read this and decide that they will totally change the way they celebrate Advent and Christmas. I do however pray that this might cause you to take just a moment to think about what your hope is in this holiday season. I pray that this might cause you to realign your heart with the truth of Christmas and the reality that we are celebrating. I pray that this would enrich your holiday experience. I pray that as the holidays wind down, the Christmas trees disappear, and life goes on as usual, you would continue to set your hope on Christ and what he represents: an expectation met, a promise fulfilled.