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The Christmas season can be very challenging. Socially, emotionally, spiritually, physically.

How we view this season is colored by our subjective experiences of it. For some the very thought of the season evinces pain, or at least melancholy. For others—often children—the season can have unequivocally good feelings associated with it.

For others of us the associations are ambiguous or mixed. I find that I always look forward with great anticipation to the days that lead up to and follow Christmas day. Even apart from the deep religious significance of the season, the thought of being with those I love in a cozy and festive atmosphere is very exciting. I usually find, however, that difficulties, even sorrows, are not banished, and that they in fact take on a certain weight and poignancy in these days.

This holy time is especially challenging precisely because it is freighted with more significance. It is a time when we turn away from the work-a-day and the passing, toward the transcendent and the enduring. And we want to do it together, to be there together. With those we love.

Poised for the richest of experiences, we are especially affected when confronted with disappointment, which takes many forms: unanticipated dissension, memories of what was but is no more, misunderstandings, the absence of loved ones, crises of faith, failures in love… We are tempted to chasten ourselves, scolding that we have hoped for too much.

But I for one am convinced that we have not hoped for too much. We may have hoped in or for the wrong things, or even the wrong persons. But we have not hoped for too much. The very suffering that so often marks this season is a sign, even a promise, of what can yet be. Indeed our suffering can become a teacher, a source of insight and transformation.

But this only if we are willing to continue to hope, and to celebrate these days, as is fitting and right.

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