The Christmas Oy
Many people become depressed at Christmastime. Crime increases, suicide rates are higher and tempers flare. Instead of Christmas joy, we often encounter Christmas oy” (Yiddish for “woe,” as in “Oy, Vey!”). Why should this happen during supposedly the most festive and joyful season of the year? What can we, as Christians, do to combat that depression?
Some of that seasonal melancholy can be traced to circumstances beyond human control, such as the brevity of daylight hours in December. On a cold, dark winter’s morning, many find it hard to force their feet out of the warm covers onto the floor. Their sleepy minds must grope to find a cause for rejoicing. Then, too, it is difficult to feel productive when the days seem so short.
In order to cope with the shortness of the daylight hours, we can seek the light in a less literal sense. Where there is light, there is hope, and depression flees. An encouraging Bible verse fastened close to the lamp switch can provide brightness of another kind to an otherwise dreary awakening. Listening to Christmas hymns with more than the usual amount of superficial involvement can also be an uplifting, cheering experience.
Health, or the lack of it, is another uncontrollable circumstance. During December the flu bug and the common cold are in their heyday. It’s hard to be cheerful while fighting sniffles, sore throats and digestive woes. As a good physical condition contributes to a good emotional condition, the opposite also holds true if we don’t work to make it otherwise.
Even a limiting physical condition can open opportunities for spiritual awakening. Faced with the inevitable Christmas cold, those with less hardy constitutions might welcome the challenge of maintaining a happy outlook in the face of that minor inconvenience. A day at home away from the usual responsibilities could be a wonderful opportunity to ponder the real meaning of the season.
Some controllable circumstances also contribute to Christmas depression. For example, Christmas is regarded as a family time. This can be depressing if we are alienated from our close relatives or have none. Yet if we consider ourselves part of God’s family, there is comfort to give and receive at holiday time. Surely some who are equally lonely would welcome an invitation to share in the Christmas festivities. People from the workplace, who perhaps have no idea of what Christmas really means, could have an introduction to the King of Kings because they were included in a Christian co-worker’s worshipful celebration. A new church member who is unfamiliar with the area or has no place to go is another good candidate for inclusion in holiday plans. Remember: One lonely person plus another lonely person equals two people on the verge of overcoming isolation. Those who are alone during the holiday season need to make an effort to invite others into their celebration.
Not in a position to feel comfortable about extending an invitation to your home? Invite someone to a neutral setting like a restaurant or a special church service. Or how about visiting a shut-in at a hospital or rest home? Both the visitor and the one who has been visited will feel better. Again, when a letter is written, two people are uplifted. The writer can meet the challenge of communicating in an upbeat tone, and the reader will surely benefit from it. Everyone, depressed or not, will benefit personally from turning his or her thoughts outward on the theme of pleasing others and helping them to feel cared for and more cheerful.
Much of that Christmas “oy” comes from trying to make Christmas into less than it ought to be. Most of the modern Christmas celebration is a secular attempt to deal with a time of year when God’s people are commemorating an event that the non-Christian world does not accept. Christmas celebrates not the mere birth of a baby, but that point in history when God took on human form. It is so easy to become sidetracked and literally buy into the outside world’s view of how Yeshua’s birth should be celebrated.
Instead of focusing on the wonderful gift God sent to earth, we become absorbed in things that have little intrinsic value. The import that we assign to wrapping paper, Christmas trees, greeting cards and baked treats far outweighs their actual worth; nor will such things have any lasting impact on us or those around us. Cookie baking, package wrapping and tree decorating are neither good nor bad activities of themselves, but if we make something that transient the focal point of our daily lives, it becomes difficult to feel content. If such holiday activities keep us on track and help us to express the true Christmas spirit, they are a boon. If not, we should reevaluate them. By de-emphasizing the material aspects and holding fast to the spiritual elements of this season, we will better insure our stand to keep Christmas the way we mean for it to be—a celebration of Yeshua’s coming to this planet. He came to rescue humanity and to bring joy, not “oy”!
Our commemoration of the Nativity should stem from our human response to what actually took place. Gift giving? The original purpose for this Christmas custom was good. What a timely idea to respond to God’s generosity in giving us his only Son by imitating it in our material generosity to others. On the other hand, when we begin to enumerate the names on our Christmas lists, it can be depressing to realize our limited resources. The most appreciated gift is the kind that expends thoughtful time and energy rather than trite monetary extravagance and says, “I know who you are, and I love you.”
In gift giving “tangible” is not necessarily synonymous with “material.” A current popular idea is the giving of a “promissory note” good for a specific service redeemable upon request by the recipient. For example, an adult might give a youngster a coupon for a one-hour trip to the library, playground or softball lot that would include transportation and the company of the giver. A teenager might give an elderly shut-in a coupon for lawn mowing or shopping services.
There are other potential areas of change for promoting joy rather than depression. It is far too easy to crowd the last calendar month of the year with all those activities we resolved to accomplish throughout the year and never quite got around to. We obligate ourselves to tie up all those loose ends in order to take a few days off. We often plan holiday vacations that rob us of our sense of continuity and provide opportunities for disappointment instead. At a busy time when routine would be a comfort, we seem determined to obliterate it. Just as we make a conscious decision to keep Yeshua the center of our Christmas celebration, we must also strive to have a calendar that honors him. That means “prime time” in our busier-than-ever holiday schedules.
One of the best defenses against Christmas depression is understanding its cause. Whether situations arise that are within or outside of our control, God has the power to take us out of the doldrums. It is elevating to remember the gifts he has given us through his Son and to realize that we are his. We can praise him and enumerate our blessings. A mind that is praising God cannot at the same time be depressed.
When we dwell on what God has accomplished for us, we arm ourselves against depression. Yeshua identified himself with the woes of the world that we might not have woe. As God’s creation, we are loved. As his redeemed through Yeshua, we are valued—and as we are yielded, we are used to accomplish some of his work. With all that, why should we allow ourselves to be depressed?
It has been said that a cup can be regarded as half full or half empty. It is a matter of perspective. Christmas can be a time when we allow the world to point out all that we lack, or it can be a time when we allow God to show us all that we have and are becoming for and through him. The key to Christmas joy is Jesus. Without the “J” for Jesus, Christmas joy becomes Christmas “oy,” and who needs that?
Lyn Bond is a senior missionary at the San Francisco branch of Jews for Jesus. Lyn has a master's degree in Missiology with an emphasis in Jewish Studies from Fuller School of World Mission. She is the daughter of the ministry’s founder, Moishe Rosen. Lyn worked at the Chicago branch work for many years alongside her husband, Alan. They have two adult children: Asher and Bethany.