Dec. 12, 2020

Permission to Be "Un-Merry" This Christmas


Christmas is just around the corner, everyone seems to be merry - but are they really? Are YOU? What if you don't feel like celebrating this Christmas? Does it mean you are being a Scrooge, a Humbug?

As someone who still feels contradictory emotions every time Christmas season rolls around, I made this special episode for everyone who needs to acknowledge that they are less than happy during Christmas. I want to assure you that not wanting to celebrate in the usual way does not mean you cannot welcome the incredible gift that Christmas brings.

Come as you are, come even if you're sad, or grumpy, or just want to be left alone. Christmas is for you too!

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Available here.

Some terms you may not be familiar with which I use in this episode:
Solemnity - Refers to a particularly great celebration for Catholics

Eucharist/ Blessed Sacrament - Refers to the round host - the bread that has been blessed and consecrated at holy mass into the Body of Christ.

Perpetual Adoration Chapel - Refers to a chapel where the Blessed Sacrament is present, often exposed, for adoration by the faithful, and which is open 24 hours a day. 

Blog: Permission to be Un-Merry this Christmas


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Hey, surprise! I know you're not expecting to hear me until January, 2021, but this is a special Christmas bonus episode.

Welcome to Becoming Me, your podcast companion and coach in your journey to a more integrated and authentic self. I am your host Ann Yeong, and I'm here to help you grow in self-discovery and wholeness. If you long to live a more authentic and integrated life and would like to hear honest insights about the rewards and challenges of this journey, then take a deep breath, relax and listen on to Becoming Me.

Hello again, dear listeners. As I record this episode, we are less than two weeks away from Christmas and I don't know about you, but my social media feed has been filling up with people decorating their homes for Christmas - baking Christmas cake, making orders for Christmas dinner, smaller this time around of course, compared to the normal Christmas feasts that we have because of the COVID-19 situation.

But as far as I can tell, people are getting ready for Christmas in different ways, right? So I'm seeing pictures of Advent candles being put up, we're entering the third Sunday of Advent very soon. So those of you who celebrate Advent as well will know that the pink candle in the wreath is about to be lit.

And every time this year there is this gearing up for something that is meant to be celebrated. The end of year is a time of merry-making, of celebration, of people coming together and having fun. Now, the reason though that I wanted to record this special episode is because I want to be able to send a message to those of you who may not be feeling very Merry this Christmas.

And I want to talk to this group of people that probably aren't really making posts on their social network on Facebook or Instagram. Maybe some of you feel even the need to hide the fact that you are not feeling very merry because perhaps you don't want to be a party pooper or you feel the need to at least keep up appearances.

Well, Christmas can be, and is for many, a wonderful time of the year where families get together. That doesn't mean that we necessarily feel very joyful. And so I have a feeling that there are many people out there that have deep contradictions about how they feel about this holiday season. And I will confess that I am one of them.

I always felt that at Christmas, I had to be happy. I had to be smiling. I had to show enthusiasm for whatever activity was proposed, whether it was singing of songs, or if I was asked to dance and whenever that was photo taking, you know, it was a big deal that I had to smile brightly. And when I was little, I perhaps, I wasn't really conscious of it.

But as I got older, I often found Christmas to be a stressful time because there seemed to be a proper way to celebrate Christmas, whether it was just in the cultural context of family and getting presents and decorating the house. I'm really not that good at decorating. For those of you who follow me on my social media would know.

That my husband and I took seven weeks to put up five acoustic panels in a small room. I mean, in a room. We are not exactly very hands-on or like arts and crafty kind of people. And I don't know what to say. I feel like it's wrong to say that I don't enjoy putting up decorations. Maybe I'm lazy, but I don't.

But I always felt like it was something that had to be done and that I needed to do with a smile on my face. What compounded issues for me was that because of certain circumstances, as we drew closer to Christmas, I would feel compelled. In fact, sometimes oftentimes I would be told that I had to do a thorough examination of my life and see how far away I was from God and make some

resolution to change my life or to come back to God. On the surface, at least, there's nothing inherently wrong with this message. But I have to confess that the way that it was often done and the larger context in which I experienced it, that message made me dread every Christmas, because it was a time of emotional and spiritual pressure.

And on top of that, it was almost always the case that tension at home will build to a boiling point. And for many years in a row, I don't remember having a Christmas without at least some kind of minor conflict. And sometimes the conflict wasn't that minor either. Now I struggled a bit about whether or not to share this because the last thing I want to do is to paint my family in a bad light.

I love my parents and well, my family very much, and I know they do the best that they can. We are just perhaps another family that has our issues and our difficulties. But for so long when I was growing up, I felt like I couldn't be honest, even with myself, about this negativity that I always feel during Christmas. And this year, it struck me that I know for a fact that there are many of you out there who in different ways would also be struggling.

So I want to share a message with you. If this does speak to you, I want to let you know that you are not alone. I wrote a blog post. And so what I'm going to do right now is I'm going to read it out, speak it to you. And if this reminds you of someone who may be having a hard time, this Christmas, I hope that you will forward this particular episode to him or her.

And if this doesn't speak to you, then, I mean, really feel free not to continue to listen further. I am very happy for you. If you are one of the lucky ones for whom Christmas has untainted joyful memories. But I do hope that you will spare a thought for others and be aware that not everyone will have such pure undiluted joy at the season and perhaps even more

so this year, when many people are actually experiencing real financial hardship. So here we go. Okay. As we round the corner to what's Christmas, I wanted to write a post dedicated to all who feel the pressure to be happy during the festive season when they feel anything but happy. There are so many reasons why festive seasons like Christmas can be a trigger for emotions other than happiness.

Perhaps you experienced a deep personal loss during this time of year, whether it is a relationship that broke apart or a loved one who passed on. And every time this year you're reminded of that loss. Perhaps you have experienced poverty and deprivation in your life and this season of excess and merrymaking reminds you of the lack in your life or your inability to provide your loved ones to a level that you wish you could. Or perhaps your life feels quite normal

but you carry the pain of loneliness and contradiction within yourself. You may even have experienced what it is like to immerse yourself in the company of others, eating and drinking and celebrating to fill a void that no food or company seems to satisfy, or maybe you're feeling quite okay at the moment

and just really don't like the obligatory rituals and celebrations that Christmas brings. And you feel the need to put up a good show so that you won't be seen or judged as a troublemaker or a party pooper. 

I hope that you will make space for your true feelings this Christmas and acknowledge them and frankly accept them because I wish to tell you that it is perfectly all right, to not feel that joy of the season.

The very first Christmas was probably a harrowing time for Mary and Joseph, who almost had no place to stay in Bethlehem, no place to give birth and who had to run for their lives and become refugees so soon after Jesus was born. While we can retrospectively and theologically speak of the joy of Christ's birth,

I wonder if we have sanitized it from the very reality that Emmanuel - which it means God with us - entered to be with us. I am speaking about the reality of our sin, our brokenness, our confusion, and our inner contradictions. I'm speaking of the reality of family dysfunction, emotional and spiritual dysfunction, societal dysfunction, and all kinds of invisible brokenness that we often feel the need to hide within us

while presenting a smiling face to the world. When our Lord Jesus Christ came into our world, he did not come to sanitize it. He came to be with us and to suffer with us and to give us hope that the suffering and evils we endure in this life do not have the final word. He came to show us that in and through him

our contradictions can come to be reconciled, even if we continue to experience them as contradictions for as long as we live our earthly life. I do not know who you are, but I wish to tell you that somehow I see you and I feel what you feel because I am also still healing from a pain I never felt I had permission to feel about Christmas.

I feared this time of the year for so many year because underneath all the glittering things on the surface, I never felt emotionally safe or that I had the permission to be anything but pious and happy. I was so preoccupied trying to steer clear of emotional minefields and checking all the boxes of what is needed to be done to celebrate Christmas properly, that it was hard to let Christ’s birth penetrate my heart.

It struck me this morning. That I wanted to give myself permission to feel what I feel this Christmas. I told myself that I will draw the boundaries I need to draw so that I can be compassionate to myself as well as others. I will prepare my heart for Christ, not by trying to sensitize my heart, but by acknowledging that I am not in control and that I really am in need of a savior.

Come Lord Jesus. Come, come into the messy world that is our lives. Come into this world of contradiction, imperfection, and sin come and be with us and through your love and power, bring true and deep peace into our hearts. Come, Lord Jesus. Come. 

So that's the message that have wanted to send out there. And I wanted to close with sharing the favorite Christmas memory I have in probably the last 10 years.

So I am Catholic and while I was living abroad, Christmas tended to be quieter. Masses tend to be quieter. I realized in the last decade or so when I was a lot more involved in parish life, because well, for a big chunk of it, I was actually staff in a parish that Christmas was a really big deal.

Christmas midnight mass was a really big deal, right? Because people came dressed to the nines, beautifully dressed. There were beautiful decorations in the church to celebrate this momentous solemnity. And people who came from midnight mass either came from Christmas dinners, or were going to some late Christmas party afterwards.

And I, for some reason, never really connected with celebrating Christmas that way. Maybe it was to do with my own personal history. I wanted to be able to celebrate Christmas in a more contemplative manner, but for a long time, I kind of wondered if that was okay. Like, was I not making Christmas the big deal that it was because it is a big deal, right?

I mean, as a Catholic, Christmas is a solemnity. But there came a year where my husband and I decided to do something different instead of attending midnight mass or even one of the Christmas Eve masses. We decided to spend Christmas in a 24 hour Perpetual Adoration Chapel. So a Perpetual Adoration.

Chapel is a prayer space that is very special because there is the Eucharist. If you're not Catholic and you have seen footages of maybe mass being celebrated, you know, there is Holy Communion. And we Catholics believe that that host is not just symbolically the body of Christ, but it really is the physical presence of Jesus Christ.

Okay. I, I can't say very much more beyond that, uh, in this short little episode to explain the theology of it, but suffice to say for Catholics, where the Blessed Sacrament - we call it, the blessed sacrament - is present, Christ is in a very special and very physical way also truly present. Okay. So a prayer room where a consecrated host is actually exposed for adoration is different from any other prayer space.

And there was one Christmas where my husband, Henry and I decided to spend a Holy Hour before midnight and Christmas in silent adoration. I was meditating on the first Christmas, how Mary and Joseph might have felt. The fact that they were tired and in need of a place to stay, and how mixed perhaps their emotions may have been the joy of welcoming Jesus when he was born, as well as the uncertainty of what would happen to them.

I sat with those complex and contradicting emotions before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. And for a while, I felt a peace enter into my heart in spite of the fact that there was so many things in my lives that were still unresolved. So many problems, so much brokenness in my own life. And as it struck midnight, and the peels of the bells from a nearby parish could be heard from this quiet prayer room,

I felt a joy and a freedom that I was spending Christmas that year, this way. Because the real presence of God can so often be lost in all the other things we say and do in His name. It is only in silence and stillness that we can truly encounter him in our hearts until this day, I remember that Christmas where we crossed midnight in a quiet little chapel.

And at that time it happened there was nobody else but the two of us, and it felt really special indeed. We attended Christmas mass on Christmas day morning, and I was still experiencing that silence and that stillness from the night before. I just want to say there is no, I guess there's no right way of celebrating Christmas.

And perhaps from year to year, given our different circumstances and what's happening in our lives, we can try and tune into how Christ is coming to be present in our lives, in a new and fresh way. I hope that for this Christmas, those of you, especially who may feel not in a very celebratory mood, may find a different way, maybe a quieter way, a more contemplative way of experiencing gratitude for things that may have been given you throughout this year. As hard and difficult as a year as it is,

I'm sure if you were to be still and to look over your year, you will still find moments of grace to be thankful for. And I hope that recollecting those moments of grace will give you hope and will give you strength. As we come to the close of 2020, remember that living life from the inside out would help us to be resilient beyond what is happening on the outer surface of our lives.

[00:18:59] And so my prayer for you for all of you, and especially for those of you who are suffering some kind of loss of pain or grief this Christmas, I want to say, “Peace, be with you and may the hope and the joy that the Christ child came to bring enter your hearts. This joy and this peace is a different thing from the felt emotion of happiness. Even in sorrow and grief,

may there be a peace that holds you, may there be a hope that keeps you from despair. You are remembered. And I hope that this message reaches you, whoever you are that needs to hear this message. May we all be safe and well and authentic this Christmas

Remember the most important thing about making this journey is to keep taking steps in the right direction. No matter how small those steps might be, and no matter where you might be in your life right now, it is always possible to begin.

The world would be a poorer place without you becoming more fully alive. Don't forget to visit my website at and to subscribe to my newsletter as well as to this podcast until the next episode.