Don’t Be “SAD” This Christmas

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Many people suffer from a mood disorder called seasonal affective disorder, appropriately referred to by its acronym, SAD. People who have SAD experience bouts of serious depression during the winter months. The disorder seems to be related to the body’s production of melatonin, a hormone that is made during periods of darkness, like the short days and long nights of winter. The most effective treatment for SAD is phototherapy, or sitting under bright lights to help boost one’s mood.

Although not everyone qualifies for this precise clinical diagnosis, most of us know what this is like: the winter blahs. It’s the sense of sadness and gloom in wintertime that often gets worse right after the excitement of the Christmas season. When I was a child I clearly remember feeling depressed the day after Christmas. The gifts had all been opened, the food was all gone, the family gatherings were all over, and there was nothing left to look forward to except more long, cold days of winter.

While SAD and depression are serious ailments that require medical and psychological intervention, I believe there is also a spiritual reason for the rest of us who experience the winter blahs. When it comes to Christmas, it’s easy to get excited and swept up in the holiday spirit long before December 25. (Our local Pamida store even put the Christmas stuff out right after Halloween!)

All the trappings of our impatient culture and our consumer-driven economy force us into the Christmas mood, whether we like it or not. The celebrations, the sales, the concerts, and the festivities all happen before Christmas.  And then, when the day has come and gone–when the toys are forgotten or broken, when the excitement has deflated–we feel depressed and let down. If our disposition is tied to this secular Christmas cycle, then it’s no wonder that as soon as Christmas is over we feel just like those empty, discarded boxes, the broken toys, and the rumpled clumps of wrapping paper!

Besides adequate sunlight or anti-depressants, there is another remedy for our winter blahs and post-Christmas let down. As we approach Christmas, we can remember what this whole thing is actually about. The rhythm of the year brings to mind the joy of the Savior’s birth long ago. In the depths of winter darkness, light returns and the days grow longer. Likewise, in the depths of human sin and darkness, the Light of the world entered into our condition to redeem us and overcome the darkness once and for all. This is the remedy for all those pitfalls of the secular Christmas season: adoring Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8).

As Christians, our celebration of Christmas should be different than the bustling, gluttonous affair that plays out in malls across the land. In fact, many liturgical churches in the West rightly observe Christmastide as the twelve days BEGINNING (rather than ending) on December 25 and running up until Epiphany (observing the Magi’s visit) on January 6. By following this pattern, Christians can stave off the indulgence of our culture, build the anticipation of Christ’s coming, and then rightly and joyfully celebrate Jesus’ birth for twelve whole days!

So this Christmas season (or Advent, if you will), let us not be SAD. But let us rejoice in the coming of our Savior.

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