The holidays magnify the wonder of all things wonderful. But they also heighten the hurt in all things hurtful. It varies in accordance with events in our lives.
For that reason, Christmas paints a varied canvas. It can be a warm, jubilant Norman Rockwell holiday painting or it can be the 'The Scream,' the Expressionism nightmare. It's a good time and a bad time.
Some counselors say that more marriages dissolve over Christmas than any other time of the year.
In England, lawyers say that more marital separations occur in early January than any other time, reflecting domestic turmoil over the holidays.
Many psychologists say the period from Thanksgiving through Christmas and into mid-January is the most stressful time.
Part of the reason, I suppose, is that many people don't experience the picture-perfect Christmas portrayed in media advertising.
Many folks don't feel the joy. That's because Christmas is colored by current events in life. And not all of those events are joyous. For many, the most tragic family experiences happened at Christmas.
I remember someone telling me when I was young, "Christmas can be very sad for older people."
I didn't understand it then. But I do now. I see Christmas as the saddest time of the year. Our deepest wounds don't heal just because December has arrived. In fact, it's just the opposite, especially when December is the anniversary of bad things.
One way to deal with the sadness is to become absorbed with other people, and do things to feel connected with the world around. Another is to focus on something positive and constructive, even if it's household chores.
There's nothing wrong with doing that. After all, many folks work on Christmas and over the holidays police, doctors, utility workers, nurses, caregivers.
Long ago my Aunt Emma said, "Christmas is just another day." I knew what she meant, and she wasn't being disrespectful.
It wasn't that Aunt Emma didn't recognize the birth of Jesus. Nothing could be further from the truth.
But Emma realized that the celebration of the holiday had become distorted. Emphasis was being put on the wrong things.
Emma also knew that Christmas takes on new meaning when you've outlived your loved ones.
When that happens, the holiday celebration disappears.
Eventually, Christmas becomes something deeply personal and private. It's not about wild parties and overeating. And it's not even about memories. It's more a time of special feelings and thoughts, beliefs we hold inside. It can be recognition of human mortality and being in touch with our innermost self.
Christmas changes with life's seasons and it can become a non-celebratory holiday. It can be a reflection, or a magnification. It depends on individual circumstances. For many it's a merry occasion and party time. For others, it's solemn, deeply religious. Still others find it difficult. And for many, it's just plain sad.
Everybody's painting of Christmas is different, as varied as the colors in an artist's palette. Whatever the case, I hope your holiday is a meaningful occasion.
Here's hoping yours is more like the Norman Rockwell painting, filled with happiness and peace.