Holiday humbug

Sighhh. Holidays. A time to take a break from the busyness of the year. But how many of us also use the holidays to take a break from God?

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I don’t want to be the Grinch but . . . I did tell someone the other day that I hate Christmas. I know, hate is a strong word. I like the end-of-year “holiday season”—time for family and friends, great food, long trips, beautiful weather and most importantly cricket on TV. Public holidays are better though—free days with no strings attached. But I digress. Things get crazy during this time and often it’s a letdown.

I was once on the losing end of a vote with my family to watch the New Year’s Eve fireworks on Sydney Harbour. Now I’ve seen fireworks before—it’s great to have a picnic, throw a ball, stretch out and relax until the show starts.

Sydney was something else. By the time we arrived, it seemed every square inch of grass, wall and ground was filled with people, tents (some had camped the night before) and mats. There was no space—even walking from one spot to another to stretch your legs was hard. The seven of us eventually found space for our mat on a small patch of uneven dirt.

But this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, right? Something we had to do . . .

For the next eight hours or so we waited for midnight to arrive. I thought when the clock struck 12, I’d definitely turn into a pumpkin.

The fireworks were spectacular but were over in a matter of minutes. Then it was fighting through the crowds, all leaving at the same time. Not my idea of fun.

We expend so much time and energy on end-of-year and Christmas celebrations. Did I mention the expense? News.com.au reports NYE 2014 cost City of Sydney Council $A6.8 million. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Australians will spend up to $A48 billion over the holiday season, including $19 billion on food and $8 billion on presents (up to half on credit). Those are exorbitant amounts. Last year, New Zealanders spent a record $NZ6 billion shopping in December, the highest monthly amount recorded in NZ.

A well-known Christmas ballad claims this is “the most wonderful time of the year”. But I find it can also be the most selfish. Although we spend money on and for others, we tend to reward ourselves. We tell ourselves that we’ve had a hard year and we deserve a break . . . and an extra piece of cake.

For me the fireworks experience is a metaphor for the holidays. There are expectations, everything gets crammed in, and it’s a little bit disappointing and ends with a bang and a rush. We should use the holidays as a time to re-establish and strengthen good habits; disciplines that have slipped during the year.

I know I look forward to the chance to break my usual routine. I tell myself I have more time to get healthy, go to the gym, spend time in devotion and prayer. But it never happens. Instead, my inner voice tells me what a hard year I’ve survived, now I deserve a break. I end up eating too much dessert, binge watching TV shows and test cricket, and generally not achieving anything. Sure, I spend more quality time with loved ones or might go on a holiday, but I don’t get the rest and recreation I require. I give myself a pass; make excuses for my decisions.

"We say the reason for the season is Jesus but then we use the season as the reason to take a holiday from His presence."

Look around your church. Is it empty today? What about the next few weeks? Sometimes we use the holidays to take a holiday from God. Tired and rundown from our busy lives, when we check out of work and school and routine, we also check out of church and put our relationship with God on hold. It can be hard to find anyone to help with the church service or Sabbath school from December to February—two or three months when everything rests on the shoulders of a few.

I know, I know, we work so hard all year. I get that. But maybe that’s part of the problem. We say the reason for the season is Jesus but then we use the season as the reason to take a holiday from His presence.

The end of the year is a time of reflection and renewal—a time to plan ahead and to celebrate the wins of the previous year. I love attending church with my islander family on New Year’s Eve, to give thanks for the year and remember what God has done.

So this year-end, I’ll praise God for carrying me through another year and I’ll try not to be too much of a Grinch.

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