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posted: 12/25/2011 5:00 AM

Don't put spirit of Christmas in the closet

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We bought our first artificial Christmas tree a number of years ago -- you know, the kind that comes in pieces and gets put together a bit like Tinkertoys.

My then-4-year-old daughter had figured out that decorated Christmas trees meant the holidays were in full swing, and she was fascinated by the idea of her tree magically popping out of a box stored in the hall closet.

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She also realized that Christmas eventually comes to an end. I was a bit taken aback, however, when one day in early January, she matter-of-factly informed me, "Well, Dad, me and Mom put Christmas back in the closet today!" That remark stuck with me; I've realized how much hidden truth there was to my daughter's unique logic.

We do, in fact, seem to quickly put Christmas away on a back shelf once the season has passed.

At its best, Christmas is a time for family gatherings, affirming friendships, warm feelings and selfless giving. We try to put aside past hurt, anger or bitterness. We seek to open our hearts to those around us in a special way. We consider what really makes life worthwhile, what gives it purpose and meaning.

It seems to last about two weeks, if that, then it's back to normal. Too often, normal is none too good.

We discover that Christmas cheer has brought only a short truce to family conflict, rather than a true peace. The old pain or anger or loneliness returns. We find our holiday generosity has barely made a dent in the poverty or hunger around us. Our life again seems to be without direction or satisfaction.

The post-holiday period is one of the most busy at counseling or mental health centers. It's almost as if Christmas and New Year's ultimately brings a lot of us down more than they ever lift us up.

There are a number of ways others suggest we deal with our post-holiday blues -- schedule a trip or a long weekend; get busy with a sport, class or project. However, such things are just attempts to avoid what we really need to work on. If our emotional, relational or spiritual life is in the pits, then our activity needs to be directed toward bringing some real sense of relief to these areas.

You might say we need to work on taking Christmas back out of the closet -- and leaving it out. The same feelings and attitudes that motivate us to care, give and forgive during the holidays are needed just as much (or maybe more) the rest of the year.

Such a yearlong extension of the Christmas spirit does not come easily to any of us, and there may be times when emotional, relational or spiritual pain is so great that we just can't do it by ourselves.

When that happens, remember that there are people around who share your struggle. Remember, too, that there is help out there.

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