United Methodist Pastoral Care and Counseling offers help dealing with "Holiday Baggage"


by John Douglass, Director of Counseling and Adult Ministry
Vestavia Hills UMC Satellite Center

We live in a world of constant change.  In a day that changes from moment to moment by an email on our wireless handheld, a tragic wreck, a threat of terrorism, we have adjusted to make change normal.  It would not seem ok if there was not something different about our day-to-day life. However, we try somehow to hold on to those holiday traditions and not change them.  We hold the same gatherings in our home with all the hurt that we tried to heal from years past.  We have moved homes hoping that would change us.  In reality it is not home that needs to be changed but us.  We somehow need to deal with the baggage that the holidays bring.  Hilary McDowell in her book On the way to Bethlehem says it so well, “Of course the emotional and psychological baggage packed itself automatically.  It was all in there, past experiences and learned strategies.  Fears from yesterday’s wounds and failures, bad memories and good ones.”
In my family of origin Christmas holds many special places.  All of my Christmas's were spent at home and in church.  My wife Carolyn’s family of origin would travel from home over 900 miles and spend their Christmas with family in Indiana and Florida.  Matthew’s account of the Christmas story has Jesus being born in Bethlehem in Judea.  The Magi left their home and followed the star to where the Christ child was. When they left from Bethlehem they were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod so they returned to their country by another route. We all have our ways of finding and making our home.
For me, home was smelling the cinnamon cooking on the stove during Christmas.  On Christmas Eve we opened our home to friends and had turkey and dressing and many other traditional dishes.  Every year my mom would lead the devotion and prayer before dinner and we would then eat and fellowship.  We would then go to church at 11:00 p.m. and then greet the Christ child by walking home together as a family.
When Carolyn and I were dating one discussion we had was, where would we be for Christmas.  I said, “Well, I’ve always stayed home for Christmas”.  She responded that she had always traveled for Christmas.  As we discussed this Carolyn said, “home for me during Christmas is being around those people I love”.  As I reflected on that I said that was the same for me.  Our first year of marriage was spent at home in Florida with people we love.  The next year we spent it with people we love in Birmingham.  We were able to make our home one out of love.
Mary and Joseph made their home for that wonderful night in Bethlehem.  Shepherds, Magi and others came to this home to see the gift of love sent from heaven.  After the visit from the Magi, an angel appeared to Joseph and said in Matthew 2:13, “’Get up,’ he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”  Then Joseph took Mary and Jesus to Nazareth where they lived.
We all look for our home during the Christmas season.  Some of us try to run away from our painful homes.  Some run to that place of love that we call home. Some people make a home of love for others.  May this Christmas be one for you where you find home with Christ the One that loves you.
If you need help dealing with personal and family issues this holiday season, please call Pastoral Care and Counseling at 205-502-5089 or 1-800-477-5979.  You can also visit our website for suggestions on honoring grief during the holidays at www.umccounseling.org.

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