Here & there: Creating Christmas joy from grief

Red candles in holders, undated | Photo by Arantxa Forcada via Scopio, St. George News

FEATURE —Today is the last day of Advent. Four Sundays of anticipation and preparation for Christmas. Some years, my family has celebrated it.  Other years we haven’t.

Christmas ornaments, Dec. 2, 2020 | Photo by Abhishek Mittal via Scopio, St. George News

This year we didn’t. And I’m not really sure why.

Perhaps it was because this year the start of Advent coincided with a double dose of COVID in my house.

Perhaps it was because I’d already shifted to the consumer part of Christmas, spurred by the dozens of retail reminders about shipping delays and the disruptions in the supply chain.

Perhaps it was because I was simply too tired.

You know, it’s really been a year.

But maybe that was a mistake. Maybe this was the year of all years to celebrate Advent.

Anglican Priest Tish Harrison Warren writes in a 2019 piece in the New York Times, “to practice Advent is to lean into an almost cosmic ache: our deep, wordless desire for things to be made right and the incompleteness we find in the meantime. We dwell in a world still racked with conflict, violence, suffering, darkness. Advent holds space for our grief, and it reminds us that all of us, in one way or another, are not only wounded by the evil in the world but are also wielders of it, contributing our own moments of unkindness or impatience or selfishness.”

Cosmic ache. That sounds about right. And she was writing before the pandemic.

But what if you’re not that religious? What if Christmas is more of a practice of festive traditions and community than it is an exercise of some deep faith?

Harrison Warren says there is still room for the practice of Advent there, too. “Still, I think Advent offers wisdom to the wider world. It reminds us that joy is trivialized if we do not first intentionally acknowledge the pain and wreckage of the world.”

Today may be the last day of Advent but there are still six days until Christmas.

Six days before sleepy children gather with glee around trees ringed with presents. Six days before eggnog, Fa-la-la-la-las, mistletoe, hearth fires and turkey dinners.

Six days to lean into the grief. Six days to hold space. In hopes of deepening our joy. By acknowledging the pain and wreckage of the world.

So, here it goes:

  • Today I grieve for the families across Kentucky, Illinois, Tennessee and Arkansas whose peace, homes and hearts were shattered by the violent two-hundred-mile night tornado.
  • Today I grieve for those same people who are still without power and basic utilities.
  • Today I grieve for the families in Oxford, Michigan who will be spending this Christmas – and all the Christmases to come – without their children.
  • Today I grieve for the rest of that community that is traumatized by a young man who himself must be broken in some way.
  • Today I grieve for the news of omicron and new restrictions being imposed across the country.
  • Today I grieve for the man sleeping in a blue tent between two cement pillars in the 9th South freeway underpass in Salt Lake City. Last night it was twenty degrees.
  • Today I grieve for our teenagers who fear being canceled over a single mistake and who feel that their lives will be over if they get one “C.”
  • Today I grieve for my twelve-year-old son who cried himself to sleep two nights ago after he read an email from his middle school principal about a possible threat of violence.
  • Today I grieve for one of my dearest friends who got rocked with a cancer diagnosis six weeks ago and started chemotherapy on Thursday.

But on Saturday, when I celebrate Christmas in my warm home around my tree with handmade ornaments from when my boys were little and with the people I love most in this world, I’ll remember the hope. And the joy.

Because even in the grief and the wreckage of this world, there is still kindness, generosity and love.

Kat Dayton is a columnist for St. George News. Any opinions given are her own and not representative of St. George News staff or management.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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