Its nearly Christmas… Why do I feel like this?

If there’s one thing that can bring light to the long, dark nights of winter, its Christmas. There’s just something magical about the lights, the Christmas jumpers, the Toy Show, the wreaths, and even the gaudy light-up reindeers.

I’m taking Christmas holidays from work next week, and I’m imagining myself in a woolly hat and gloves, walking through Winterval with a cup of steaming mulled wine, looking up at the twinkling lights. I imagine taking my one year old on the carousel and showing him the gigantic Christmas tree in the square. Its absolutely freezing, and almost dark at half past three in the afternoon but it doesn’t matter, because its Christmassy! 

Its a push early next week to finish up everything for work in time for the holidays, but once we all get past those deadlines we’re on a home run to wherever home is, where we’ll spend time with family, meet up with old friends, and finally feast on that Christmas dinner (the stuffing is the best part – prove me wrong)! 

And yet, this year, I wonder if you’re feeling a bit like me. As if this glittering ball of Christmas cheer is just a bit… unreflective of reality. In the run up to Christmas this year, I’ve been getting a bit of a sinking feeling in my stomach. The new restrictions from last night aren’t totally stifling, but its as if we were already feeling disappointed, even before they came in. I was talking to a student the other day who said “everyone has low-key depression this Christmas”. There’s a feeling of inevitability that what we’re hoping for will be cancelled. A kind of groundhog-day sensation that we’ve all become accustomed to through Covid. That has to be the reason. 

We’ve just gotten so used to things being cancelled that when there’s even a whisper of something to look forward to, it feels like its already over. Its frustration morphed into perpetual disappointment, and I think for some of us, after the last two years of this, we’re just feeling a bit numb from it all. 

There’s a mild churning in my stomach when I think about Christmas. And I’ve found that strange, because I’m not really a massive Christmas fan. I don’t go mad on the décor, it’s a hard pass from me on the light-up reindeers. But I think its because Christmas has always been the one thing we look forward to. The one bright light in the darkest season of the year. 

There’s a famous story that’s become quite relatable over the last few weeks. It’s a story about a long winter with no Christmas in a book called ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ by C.S Lewis. If you haven’t read it or watched it, I’d highly recommended doing so at this time of year. My sources tell me its currently streaming on Disney+!

Its set in a land called Narnia, which was created by Aslan the lion. Aslan is absent from Narnia, and the White Witch is in power. The four Pevensie children discover Narnia through the back of a wardrobe in an old house while sheltering from WW2 in the English countryside.  

The youngest girl Lucy is the first one to discover Narnia. While hiding in the wardrobe, she peers through the old fur coats hanging up and discovers a beautiful, snowy woods with the iconic Narnian lamppost. She meets a charming fawn called Mr Tumnus who invites her back to his home for tea and toast in front of the fire. But all is not as it seems.

The fawn explains to Lucy that under the white witch’s rule, Narnia is cursed. ‘“It is winter in Narnia,” said Mr. Tumnus, “and has been for ever so long…. always winter, but never Christmas.”

“Always winter but never Christmas.”

Mr Tumnus

C.S Lewis wrote the Narnia series back in the 1950s, but he was tapping into something universal and timeless. When you have Christmas, the long, dark, cold nights are bearable.

When you have hope, darkness is bearable. 

But if you take out the hope, like the white witch took away Christmas, the winter is unbearable. The darkness is unbearable. 

On the surface we like to think we’re fine with disappointments. We’re big picture thinkers, we’re able to just suck it up and get on with it. But in reality, how would we fare if we genuinely felt we had nothing to look forward to? 

Hopelessness is difficult to talk about, and yet we see it everywhere around us. I’m sure you’ve experienced it in some ways, and probably know many people who’ve been hit hard by it over the last few years. With Covid, many people have had to deal with the feeling of having nothing to look forward to. Nothing to keep going for.  

And I think if we’re very honest, it seems to have been the case pre-covid too. Not just now when things are always cancelled. Maybe that’s exacerbated it, but we’ve always been striving to find something to give us enough hope. That’s one of the reasons we’re always straining forward to the next holiday, the next change, the next season, the next Christmas. There needs to be something ahead of us to keep us going through hard times. 

At the same time I’ve noticed a growing movement towards positivity during Covid, on social media particularly.

The big idea is that thinking positively can change your outlook and make difficult things much more bearable. There is something very true about this, our outlook makes a huge difference. But I don’t think the positivity movement goes far enough. It can actually come across as quite shallow and trite, especially to people who are really going through intense pain or grief. Why would I be positive if I actually don’t have anything to look forward to or be positive about? 

I wonder if you’ve experienced this personally? If you’ve ever been in a time of real hopelessness and darkness yourself, you might have found this positivity stuff to be quite surface level, and a bit condescending. Its like someone telling you to just keep the chin up. Or someone telling you to just become a bit tougher and you won’t mind the pain so much. I’m so very sorry if this has been your experience when you’ve been suffering. It can really make things feel so much worse. Salt in the wounds.

I had a fairly difficult experience a few years ago and experienced that kind of toxic positivity first hand. I had just found out that there was an issue with my eyes, and my sight had started to degenerate. Thankfully a new treatment worked (there was also a lot of prayer!), but the initial diagnosis had been very bleak. My eyes are fine for now, but in the midst of this horrible news, someone told me that I just need to be think positively and don’t mind what the consultant had said. Its hard to describe how insensitive this well-meant but shallow advice was.

But let’s finish the story about Narnia, and see what happens in the depths of this eternal winter. The Pevensie children had gone through the wardrobe into Narnia and were staying with a family of little beavers (talking beavers, of course). 

They hear sleigh bells and panic in case it’s the white witch! Thankfully its not the witch, Its Father Christmas (or Santa as we call him here) and he’s come with Christmas presents for everyone. It’s a truly delightful scene and has stayed with me since I read it as a child. 

Father Christmas gives Peter a sword, Susan a bow and arrow, little Lucy a healing potion and dagger, and Mrs Beaver a mini, beaver-sized sewing machine.

The first Christmas presents since the while witch took over! The first sign of spring coming. The first sign of hope.

Mr Beaver told the children about Aslan (the lion who’d created Narnia), about the Witch, and the long winter. Listen to the first time they ever hear about Aslan: 

“They say Aslan is on the move – perhaps has already landed.” 
And now a very curious thing happened. None of the children knew who Aslan was any more than you do; but the moment the Beaver had spoken these words everyone felt quite different. Perhaps it has sometimes happened to you in a dream that someone says something which you don’t understand but in the dream it feels as if it has some enormous meaning- either a terrifying one which turns the whole dream into a nightmare or else a lovely meaning too lovely to put into words, which makes the dream so beautiful that you remember it all your life and are always wishing you could get into that dream again. It was like that now. At the name of Aslan each one of the children felt something jump in its inside. Edmund felt a sensation of mysterious horror. Peter felt suddenly brave and adventurous. Susan felt as if some delicious smell or some delightful strain of music had just floated by her. And Lucy got the feeling you have when you wake up in the morning and realize that it is the beginning of the holidays or the beginning of summer.”

How beautiful. 

I wonder, maybe you haven’t read or watched Narnia, but if you ever feel like our world is in a state of perpetual winter too? As if we’re always just looking to the next thing, the next season, the next celebration, just anything to give us hope, anything to get us through? Always looking to the next thing?

This might be stretching your imagination a bit, but imagine if there was an Aslan, a good and kingly creator who was coming back to remove the curse, melt the ice of winter, bring the new life of spring, and undo all the wrongs of this world?

Imagine if there was someone who’s very name could give you a sense of hope, and that feeling of waking up on the first day of the holidays? 

You might not know this, but the author of the Narnia books, C.S Lewis, was actually a Christian. People frequently noticed the similarities between Aslan from Narnia, and Jesus, the central figure of Christianity, and ask Lewis if he created Aslan as a sort of Christ character.

Perhaps you’ve never personally read about Jesus before. Maybe your experience of Christianity has been just more shallow platitudes about being a good person and making sure you don’t do anything wrong. But in the Bible, Jesus is anything but shallow. He’s described as a lion. 

And when Lewis was asked if Aslan was an allegory for Jesus, he said, “he is an invention giving an imaginary answer to the question ‘What might Christ become like if there really were a world like Narnia and He chose to be incarnate and die and rise again in that world as He actually has done in ours?'”

Lewis believed that Jesus was our world’s Aslan. Or rather, that Aslan was Narnia’s Jesus.

I wonder if that surprises you? I wonder if when you think about Jesus, have you always picture a baby in a manger, like the nativity scenes? Do you find it intriguing to hear him described like this, like a kind of Aslan character? And not just as Kingly, creator and powerful, but as the source of hope and goodness and light in the world? 

The person whose very name can make you feel either like Edmund, who felt a sensation of mysterious horror, or like little Lucy, who felt like it was the first day of the holidays? 

If you’re wondering why this Jesus is so compelling to people, and how he could possibly be this source of hope, like Aslan, can I encourage you to keep wondering? Can I encourage you to seek out Jesus and find out for yourself if what Lewis said and what Christians throughout history and all over the world say about him could possibly be true?

Because if Jesus is this source of hope, then that could melt the ice of our winter. If Jesus offers to brings hope into our darkness and hopelessness, then that could change your life forever. 

Christians celebrate Christmas for precisely this reason – the creator saw that the world he loved had become darkened and frozen-over, and so the creator entered his own creation. This is what we call the ‘incarnation’. God became flesh. 

There’s a paragraph from the Bible about Jesus that people often read at Christmas, and it always reminds me of Aslan bringing spring to Narnia: 

“The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.”

                – Isaiah 9:2

There’s another part of the Bible that says that God has placed each one of us in our exact time in history so that we would seek him, reach out for him and find him, and he’s close enough to each of us that we only need to reach out to him. 

If this is true it means that God is not hiding from us. If you truly want to know who Jesus is you can just ask him to show you who he is, and he answers that prayer.

If you’ve never read about Jesus yourself, there are eye witness stories written down from the time he lived and have been translated into English. You can google ‘Gospel of John’ to read these eye-witness testimonies for yourself. In fact, here’s a link to the first chapter. 

As you look up at the twinkling lights this year, I hope you’ll be reminded of the story of Narnia, and whether the creator gives you a sense of horror or a sense of joy, that you’d find out for yourself if there really is a spring coming.

“Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.”

By Isabel Quinlan

Blog post adapted from a recent talk at a Christmas event at Waterford Institute of technology.

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