While I was driving home tonight from a meeting I had to cover, I listened to Christmas music.
I was tired after a long day of work, but I felt hyper, which often happens when I’ve spent too much time being an alert reporter full of caffeine. I hoped the music would distract me from words and ideas racing around in my head.
The music was lovely—a Susan Boyle CD—but as I listened to “Away in a Manger,” I began to feel very lonely and sad, and I started to cry.
This was not the first time I had cried while listening to Christmas music. “Silent Night” often made me melancholy. I felt forlorn when listening to “In the Bleak Midwinter.”
I know. If the music makes me sad, don’t listen, right? But I love the truly traditional holiday music and carols.
Tonight I tried to figure out why the music could make me feel desolate.
It’s not because I yearn for happier days as a child. My childhood was not terrible, and I have a lot of good Christmas memories. But I have some not-so-good Christmas memories too, like the Christmas break when I was 12 and I had to read a book for school.
I had been unable to finish it before break. I hadn’t finished it because I reread each page multiple times before feeling “right” enough to move to the next page. If I didn’t know for sure that I had read each word, then I would be lying if I said I read the book. That’s how my thinking went.
My mother didn’t know about my obsessions and compulsions. I didn’t tell her. She thought I was being stubborn and disobedient and lectured me for not just reading the book.
I did get a one-day reprieve. On Christmas Day, I was allowed to read a book I had received as a gift. The next day, it was back to the assigned book. I couldn’t read for pleasure until I finished it.
So no, I didn’t want to bring back the past.
The tears I shed are also not tears of joy. I just don’t get the whole “it’s the most wonderful time of the year” mentality.
For me, it’s a time of the year when I have to spend more time with relatives that I don’t really want to spend time with, waiting for the biting remarks or vague criticism.
I worry about having enough money to buy the gifts I want to give.
I worry that I’ll have to cook a dish to take to a potluck or party, which means I’ll probably have to use the stove, which means I’ll get anxious about that . . . And on and on.
What I do think is going on with me and the old Christmas songs is that they touch something deep and old within me. The songs I sang in church as a child and played on the piano helped to form my earliest memories of the holidays, my first sense of what they should be.
I feel sad about never having the kind of Christmases that make some people say it’s the best time of the year for them.
I cry because I won’t get second chances at all the Christmases past.
But I’m not going to focus on the past. All is not bleak. I am listening to the words of the songs more closely this year. I’m beginning to care more about that essence that the old Christmas songs are about—the dawn of grace. That’s what I’m holding onto.