I hate Christmas parties. Well…I used to. Allow me to explain.

Once upon a not-too-distant time ago, I was struggling with a Grinch-like heart that was a few sizes too small when it came to the celebration of Christmas. I loathed the yearly conversations about secret Santa, gift exchanges, drawing names, whose house to open presents at, how much time to take off, and daily trips to the grocery store (“Am I just eating because I’m bored?”). All of it added up to that kind of “extra” that made me anxious and grumpy. I may have even said “humbug” out loud a time or two. In truth, my biggest gripe came with the commercialization of Christmas (“hate, hate, hate. Double hate…loathe entirely!”). What’s a guy to think seeing Christmas sales and even Christmas music in November before Thanksgiving had even come and gone? Black Friday deals now came earlier, and the music was just a soundtrack to consumer greed. I didn’t like (and still don’t) what it does to my kids’ hearts to see the newest flashy toy or gadget that they now just “had to have.” Ultimately, I didn’t like (and still don’t) what it does to my own heart. It made me ungrateful and discontent with last year’s “latest” craze that now seemed so incredibly lackluster.

Theodore Roosevelt famously said, “Comparison is the thief of all joy,” and I found this to be factual. Especially when it came down to more stuff. Not only that, but I found it to be true in a few of the jobs I had put my hands to over the years. After many years working in retail during the Holidays and experiencing the depth of depravity in the human heart from others and myself, my heart soured. I became cynical and hardened. To the point that I could go the entire month of Christmas and only listen to Christmas music on Christmas Eve and Christmas day and be no worse the wear for it. To the point where I rejoiced whenever a Christmas party got canceled or I had an excuse to miss it, even if it meant working on Christmas Eve. I had very real daydreams of rage-chopping complaining shoppers right in their scarved larynxes. (Don’t worry, I didn’t. Pro Tip: The feeling will pass if you hum “All I Want for Christmas Is You” in your head.)

However, with maturity, I came to realize the error of throwing out the baby (Jesus) with the (consumeristic) bathwater. Just because my mind and heart drifted down the worldly stream away from the point of Christmas, doesn’t make Christmas or the accompanying parties a bad thing. Celebration is good, it’s healthy, and it’s needed. Especially the celebration of the King who came humbly as a baby to point the way back to the Father and His infinite joy. But it’s nearly impossible if you aren’t grateful. And that’s the good news here. It’s the good news, and the answer…gratitude is the key to joy. If comparison steals joy, then gratitude multiplies it. Notice I didn’t say happiness, because happiness is based on your shifting circumstances, but joy comes from within and isn’t dependent on how we feel. Again, joy isn’t circumstantial and for that, we should be thankful. Joy is harder to get at, it doesn’t just come from the immediacy of our “warm and fuzzies” or through the trappings of Christmas alone…it’s not feeling-based but takes the hard work of working through the not-so-pleasant ones. Joy is a choice that’s available to everyone.

So, though I may never practice listening to Christmas music, or shopping for presents before Thanksgiving, I can practice being grateful for the many good things in my life, starting first with my relationship with Christ. My parents and siblings. My wife and kids. My friends. My Church community. Purposeful work. The gift that music has been during my life. A hot cup of coffee. The chill of fall and subsequent sweater weather, (Aka “winter” in Florida). A home. Food to eat. And the list could go on…

All in all, if I could offer any encouragement to those out there who have or are struggling to get in the Christmas “mood,” it would be to start thanking God for all His goodness. This isn’t to discount the difficulty or take a “Pollyanna” view of the world, it’s simply choosing to invest what energy you have in dwelling on the good. I have found in so choosing that it doesn’t necessarily eliminate the trouble lurking in the corners of my life, but it does change the way I think about them. When I’m full of joy, there isn’t room for the negative, and the way I see the sorrows of life takes a different hue. Not only that, but they often fade from view and play on the movie reel of my mind less.

So, go to that party. Wear that ugly Christmas sweater with pride. Look at the wonder of children all around you who live in a state of expectancy. Practice gratitude. Choose joy. It’s the greatest unopened gift too often left under the Christmas tree each year. It’s not a promise, but more a hunch that if you do these things, (“MAX. HELP ME… I’m FEELING”) your heart just may grow three sizes this year.

Merry Christmas you filthy animals!

Other Christmas related posts: 5 Things I do When It Doesn’t Feel Like Christmas, My Top 10 Christmas Movies