How to fight the Christmas blues

Russell Shaw

For many people, the season of good cheer is a deeply trying affair. I don’t mean unhappy souls who have good reason to be sad — the loss of loved ones, poor health, loneliness — but those who feel let down when Christmas doesn’t deliver all the personal gratification they were seeking.

I recently recalled an incident related by St. Therese of Lisieux in her marvelous autobiography “The Story of a Soul.” It happened early on Christmas morning 1886, when Therese was 12 going on 13.

Her family had a Christmas Eve custom. They would set out the children’s shoes in front of the fireplace, and when they got home from Midnight Mass the shoes were magically filled with gifts. This particular Christmas, though, Therese’s father was irritated about something or other, and she overheard him saying, “Thank goodness it’s the last time we shall have this kind of thing!”

Therese was a good, pious child, but by her own account an overly sensitive one, often bursting into tears and, when told to stop, crying all the harder just because she was crying. Now her father’s words cut her to the quick. When she went upstairs to take off her hat, her older sister Celine, sizing up the situation, told her, “Don’t go downstairs again. Taking the presents out of your shoes will upset you too much.”

But not now. She writes: “Therese was not the same girl. Jesus had changed her. I suppressed my tears, ran downstairs, and picked up my shoes. I pulled out my presents with an air of great cheerfulness. Daddy laughed and Celine thought she was dreaming ... Love filled my heart, I forgot myself and henceforth I was happy.”

What had happened? Therese says simply that she had received “the grace of emerging from childhood.”

Most of us aren’t saints of the stature of Therese of Lisieux, but some have had experiences not entirely unlike hers. Forgetting ourselves can cure our Christmas Blues.

Russell Shaw is the author of “American Church: The Remarkable Rise, Meteoric Fall, and Uncertain Future of Catholicism in America.”