This has got to be the most depressing song on my list. Honestly, I hadn’t even heard it before until this list was being put together and multiple people had requested it. Once I read the lyrics, I began to think that this one is even worse than Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer. OK, maybe not quite that bad, but that one is meant to be parody and this one definitely isn’t. Even still, it resonates with me. The song starts out with a narrator in the drunk tank listening to an older gentleman saying it will be his last Christmas and singing of his regrets. Near the end of the song, the narrator now singing that he hopes this will be his last Christmas. “Happy Christmas your *** I pray God It’s our last”. I am so grateful I don’t seem to have the regrets and made the poor life decisions this singer seems to have made, but the song certainly did pull up a few bittersweet memories. I am not so much talking about Christmas regrets as I am just plain hard Christmases.
We were never wealthy so although we did more than fine, Christmas was never the orgy of expensive gifts some of my childhood friends seemed to get. The only exception to that rule actually came my sophomore year in college. That year it seemed like everybody in our community decided to buy us Christmas presents. We had a large garage but it was loaded up with what seemed like a hundred of those big black hefty trash bags filled to the brim with presents that others had bought for us. Granted, these were mostly for my younger siblings, we had a baby girl and five others all between the ages of eight and eleven. Even still, I got far more presents that year than I could ever have imagined and I didn’t want a single one of them. There was only one thing I wanted that Christmas and there was no possible way I was going to get it.
The reason for all these gifts goes back to election day a month and a half before. My dad was forty-two at the time. He was a small church planter with eight kids, six of them still preteen living at home and two of us in college. He was in good shape for his age and went out like he normally did to play in a basketball rec league where most of the players were half his age. This evening he never did make it back home. He and a teammate both converged on the basket from opposite sides. They knocked heads and my dad was knocked unconscious. Because he was knocked out, he could not protect his fall and his head was the first thing to hit the ground. This caused further injury preventing oxygen from reaching his brain. Just a short time later he died.
I was a thousand miles away in Bible college the night this all went down. I had received one message on my answering machine saying that dad had hit his head and was being taken to the hospital. There was another right after it saying the condition was serious and I needed to call home as soon as possible. This was before the time of cell phones and the family was all at the hospital by the time I came home that evening and saw the calls. I did manage to connect with someone from church and they set me up with a plane ticket home first thing the next morning. I was in the airport right before that flight left when I was told my dad had died.
I came home for a few days for the ceremony and everything, but I did most of my grieving back at college. Coming home this Christmas was the first time back in the same house, with all the same people that I didn’t know outside of our mutual relationship with dad. Everything was still so very raw and this Christmas was by far the worst I have ever had to endure. The community all knew my dad and what had happened so that holiday season it seemed that we had become everyone’s charity. I had a huge “haul” of presents but I didn’t want any of them. They only served as another reminder of what I was missing. Even writing about it now, twenty years later, I can still feel the emotion of that time. Every single Christmas since then has been tainted.
Another very difficult Christmas was two years back, the first time I was here in Turkey instead of being with my family. It was the first time ever in the thirty plus years of my life that I had not been home for Christmas. They say most missionaries have the worst time of it about six months to a year after arriving for the first time in their new home. It was about eight months after my arrival and that slump was hitting me hard. In addition, I was just getting over a rough case of the flu when Christmas came. I had decided I was going to check out Saint Nick’s home that year on Christmas Day and so I wasn’t even around the new community I was growing to know and love on Christmas Eve and Day. Both nights I was sitting alone in a hotel in strange little town I had never before visited. Christmas is supposed to be a time for love, for family and for community connections. I have never in my life been as disconnected from everything as I was that Christmas.
We all wish that every Christmas will be full of love and joy and cheer. That is the way things are supposed to be. Unfortunately, sometimes life tends to step in and muddle up out neat little plans. Not every Christmas will be of the stuff they make Hallmark commercial out of. But no matter how rough our worst Christmas is, it can’t be as bad as embarking on a mission to abandon heaven and be born in a barn with the end game being abandoned, rejected, tortured, and brutally killed. That perspective doesn’t ever seem to make it through to our nativity scenes, does it? Poor Mary had to travel many miles by donkey while nine months pregnant only to end that first Christmas going through labor and then using a horses feeding trough as her newborn’s crib. That Christmas probably wasn’t all that fun for her. God knows what we are going through. He has walked this road with us, even… especially the bumpy parts. I pray this holiday is full of joy and cheer, but even if this is looking to shape up like your “worst Christmas ever”, I pray that you will feel the nearness of the Savior Friend who shares your pain.