by Joe Pisani
I’ve often believed — please forgive this absolutely despicable thought — that the holiday season brings out the worst in us. Now that I got that out, let me explain what I’m talking about.For me, it has always seemed that the time from Thanksgiving to Christmas to New Year’s is sort of the Bermuda Triangle of holidays. We have high expectations, but they’re seldom met. Even worse, people who can’t get along are thrown together amid the holiday revelry, and old resentments are resurrected, not to mention new ones.
How many times have you heard someone say, “If he’s going to be there, I’m not coming!” Or “There’s absolutely no way I can be in the same room with them after what they did.” Or “Why do you have to invite HER?!?” To which you promptly respond, “Because she’s my mother.” Lately, there’s a new riff on this traditional melody, and it goes something like this, “If he wears his MAGA hat to the party, I am walking out!” Or “If she starts babbling about impeachment, I’m gonna …” Politics, like nothing else, can cause division and anger among people who are meant to love one another.
Thanksgiving is a time to give thanks. Christmas is a time to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace. And New Year’s is a time to begin again, try harder and leave the past behind. But none of that is possible if we’re consumed by anger and resentment. Instead, of moving toward the light, we wander through the dark like Jacob Marley, overburdened with rattling chains of our own creation. We may have a lot of excuses for our “justifiable” resentments, but there’s not one good reason.
We all have aunts and uncles, sisters and brothers, and mothers and fathers … not to mention children … who can’t get along, and too often we’re forced to take sides and get embroiled in their grudges. During the holiday season, innocent bystanders suffer from collateral emotional damage when they get caught up in the vortex of resentments.
Every Christmas I find myself sharing the misery of friends and family members who haven’t spoken to each other in years. Aunt Flo doesn’t talk to Aunt Bernice, and Cousin Archie growls if you suggest he go to Uncle Waldo’s on Christmas Eve even though everyone else will be there. These long-festering family feuds suck the festive spirit out of the holiday. (By the way, the names in this column have been changed to protect the guilty.)
I’ve been to countless holiday celebrations where two people who despise each other assiduously avoid making eye contact, going to the punch bowl at the same time, or even whispering, “Happy Christmas” although I’ve seen them grumble it like a curse, “Urrrgh … happy Christmas!”
I’ve also witnessed this self-induced holiday misery with my daughters, who for reasons I’ll never understand, can’t stay in the same room for more than 15 minutes without sniping.
Daughter A engages Daughter B and tries to enlist Daughter C or Daughter D to take sides. As the mayhem escalates, text-messages go back and forth, holiday plans get derailed, and everyone becomes so miserable they want to crawl under the Christmas tree and hide.
In utter exasperation, I’ve yelled, “Why can’t we just get along and enjoy the holiday?” That plea, unfortunately, usually falls on deaf ears.
One year it got so bad I found myself sitting on the porch, looking at the lights on my neighbor’s house and wondering why I couldn’t have a Christmas like Bob Cratchit or the Little House on the Prairie. Even the Simpsons would have been an improvement.
A woman I know nursed a resentment against her sister-in-law for several decades and never went to a holiday party if she was there. No one, absolutely no one, knew what provoked it although everyone had a theory, but even the worst possible cause couldn’t justify hanging on to a grudge for so long because at the end of the day, grudges are spiritually corrosive to people who cling to them.
It was the Prince of Peace, himself, who said, “When you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there and go be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.”
There’s a saying that goes, “Christmas is a time to forgive old hurts.” (To which I would like to add a new one: “Christmas is a time to forget politics.)
I’ve always believed that at Christmastime, God gives us special graces to make amends and to forgive. All you have to do is ask for those graces, and the Christ child will be right by your side when you take that first step toward reconciliation. He’ll make it easier than you ever imagined possible because that’s what Christmas is all about … and there’s no better gift than forgiveness.