“My family is so messed up! I am taking my daughter to Disneyland for Christmas.”
The woman in my office fought back tears and anger. Throughout the counseling session she bemoaned the holiday blues and pressure to orchestrate a Merry Christmas for her only daughter.
It was her first Christmas after the death of her husband and she and her daughter were feeling the overwhelming loss. The only family remaining was severely dysfunctional, which left the mother and daughter alone for Christmas.
Disneyland was their escape.
You can enjoy the fantasy of Disneyland because you don’t expect it to be real.
For a moment you suspend the harsh realities of life until you leave the park and return to the daily grind.
How does Disneyland help suspend reality? It controls the environment. To the best of Disney’s ability “reality” is left outside its walls. Inside the park fantasy promises positive feelings, safety, hope and ability to dream happily ever after.
Like Disneyland, the holidays attempt a break from the harsh realities of life. We decorate our world with ornaments, while intoxicating the senses with peppermint mochas, turkey dinners and music that carries us into a world of chestnuts roasting on an open fire.
But most of us don’t have Disney’s resources. We don’t have billions of dollars and can’t control much of our environment. As a result it creates a tension of ideals. A chasm between a life of our dreams and the realities of life. The financial pressure to buy presents we can’t afford, orchestrate picture perfect family dinners and visions of sugar plums dancing in our heads.
If you want a measurement of stress, it is the distance between your ideals and reality. The greater the distance, the greater your anxiety and depression.
At Disneyland you believe that life is a fantasy (at least for a few hours), and Disney delivers. Stress is reduced because there is little discrepancy between what you expect from Disneyland and the environment of Fantasy Land. But as you drive home and Disneyland fades in the distance, reality creeps in and you realize the great divide between the Magic Kingdom and the real world.
But Christmas isn’t Disneyland. It is the story of Jesus Christ. The birth of a Savior.
The story of the real world. Fear, brokenness and death embraced in a crucifixion and transformed by resurrection. A transformation of peace, joy and eternal life. The Savior of a spiritual kingdom, not a Magic Kingdom. Not a Prosperity Gospel, but a Gospel for those who are weak and heavy burdened. A King who embraces our tears, carries our wounds and provides a joy that surpasses understanding.
When Christ is close in our hearts there is little distance between what is real and what is fantasy. There is no discrepancy between what we think life should be and what it delivers. Christ was a realist about the ugliness of sin and joy of forgiveness.
Christians don’t expect life to be perfect, but find perfect peace in God’s love. We anticipate life’s trials and sorrows but rejoice in grace and forgiveness. We know how to enjoy life whether in need or with plenty, whether well feed or hungry. We can do all things through him who strengthens us. (Philippians 4:12-13)
We can adorn Christmas trees with cherished ornaments, lighting our homes with joy and beauty; while weeping for prodigal family members and loved ones no longer here.
We know how to weep with our Savior and celebrate in his promises.
It is like the bitter sweet joy I invite every Christmas Eve. I sit with the glow of a warm fire, watching Bing Crosby’s White Christmas. Swept away by the music and romantic ideals, tears swell with friends remembered and better days of youthful dreams. Christmas morning I awaken to that verse dancing in my head: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light....For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be Called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:1-6)
Christmas may not be Disneyland, but I still think it is the most wonderful time of the year!
Dr. David Zuccolotto is a former pastor and clinical psychologist. For 35 years he has worked for hospitals, addiction treatment centers, outpatient clinics and private practice. He is the author of The Love of God: A 70 Day Journey of Forgiveness.