There is one dinner at T.G.I. Friday that I will never forget. It wasn't because I had an exceptionally good meal (I don't even remember what I ordered). It wasn't because my entire immediate family was there (although with so many of us that is increasingly rare). And it wasn't because it was the only time I've been there (though truth be told, we are much more of a Chili's family). It was because it was Christmas Day.
Although my siblings and I laugh about it now, at the time I remember thinking, What are we doing here? We're supposed to be cozied around a fire or decorating Christmas cookies or gathering with cousins and grandparents.
This time of year, nearly every commercial involves loved ones greeting each other with warm hugs, beaming smiles, bearing neatly-wrapped gifts, amidst glowing lights and cheery music. Seemingly every Christmas song exclaims this is the most wonderful time of the year, and paints a picture-perfect scene of building snowmen or chestnuts roasting by an open fire (but come on, who has ever roasted chestnuts?). Between the highlight reels of our Facebook feeds, as well as our own holiday traditions, Christmas comes with a lot of expectations, to say the least. The day is supposed to be perfect. If there is no room for a perfectly decent place like T.G.I. Friday on Christmas, there certainly is no room for sadness or suffering, it seems.
We often subscribe to these holly jolly Christmas ideals—that the day (and season) should be a "sugar plum" day with only smiles, laughter, and the smell of pine wafting through the air. We feel we should put the sad, painful, or uglier parts of our lives on hold. But this isn't real life. Suffering and sorrow are not neatly compartmentalized away from the joy of our every day lives.
Fr. Mike Schmitz reminds us how even each of the joyful mysteries of the Holy Rosary were touched by pain, sadness, and uncertainty. Even these five scenes from the first Christmas and Jesus' childhood—which we believe to be such a joyful time, before the pain and betrayal associated with Christ's death set in—had their darker moments. Think of the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary revealing the Good News, that she "will bear a son, and name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High" (Luke 1:31-32). What good tidings of great joy! Yet we cannot even imagine the fear and uncertainty Mary felt at this joyful moment, the suffering and humiliation she would endure for being pregnant before Joseph married her, or the pain of the ride to Bethlehem. Similarly, Jesus' birth literally brought joy to the world—the Savior had finally come! This nativity scene is often described as a "silent and holy night," depicted in Christmas programs by adorable preschoolers singing Christmas carols. Yet Jesus was born literally among animals, into destitution, to a family with nowhere to live. Shortly after Jesus' birth, the Holy Family had to flee the country because King Herod was trying to kill Him. I can only imagine Joseph and Mary, in all their holiness, wondering what the rest of Jesus' life would be like if His birth brought this much fear and pain.
Clearly, the first Christmas wasn't the Hallmark holiday we try to mold our Christmas Day into. The events of Jesus' birth were riddled with uncertainty and sorrow almost as much as they were filled with joy.
Jesus, the Savior of the world, was not only born for the joy. Jesus was also born for the sadness, the pain, and the uncertainty. He was not only born for the lavish family feasts, the exchange of presents, the cousin picture taken by the ornate Christmas tree, or the time Grandpa painted his face like a tiger on Christmas. He was also born for the Christmas dinner at T.G.I. Friday, the time your Secret Santa took back his present, the screaming baby cousins crying throughout the picture attempts, and the first Christmas without Grandpa. Jesus was born for the Christmases to remember and the ones you will never forget, no matter how hard you try. He was born for your pain, your sadness, your uncertainty, your brokenness. He was born for the part of you that you love just as much as He was born for and the part of you that you hate. Jesus came into our imperfect world of broken souls to heal the part of you hidden in shame or pain. The part of you that you try to hide from the world, pushed down where no one can see. He was born for every part of you—the good, the bad, the ugly—and He died for it, too.
So this year, let go of your inner Clark Griswold, clenching unceasingly to the ideal of a perfect family Christmas. Instead of glossing over the pain, sadness, and uncertainty, let Jesus come into your real life. Let Him come into the part of your life you Instagram about, and the part that you intentionally don't. When we allow Him to come into our imperfect Christmases and our broken hearts, then we can find what it means to have a truly joyful, merry Christmas—even if you find yourself at T.G.I. Friday.