We will all have to face a Scrooge or two during the holidays. Maybe you have a boss who turns especially grumpy and hyper-critical as December 25 approaches. Or a neighbor who grumbles at you while you are struggling to put up your Christmas lights. Or a cousin who thinks that Christmas is a scam and lets everyone at your family gathering know it.
While Advent and Christmas seem to bring out the best in many people, there are unfortunate exceptions. “Scrooges” are those people who can’t get into the holiday spirit or who actively dislike Christmastime and all that comes with it.
(Note: Here we are not talking about genuinely harmful or manipulative people who are best avoided, if possible. Such people need professional help and there is generally little you can do to help them other than to pray for them.)
Even if you try to limit your contact with Scrooges in the coming weeks, it’s likely that avoiding all interactions will prove impossible. That being the case, here are 5 tips that may put you in a proper mindset to deal with Scrooges:
Try to be understanding
It can be tempting to villainize the Scrooges in your life, but it’s important to recognize that they may have reasons for their negative feelings. They may be lonely, suffering from a mental or physical illness, or associate this time of year with suffering or loss. Your sarcastic anti-Christmas cousin may well be hiding a deep wound of some kind.
Learn from the example of St. Therese of Lisieux who had a difficult superior when she entered the convent. By putting her focus on God, St. Therese ceased to be drawn into the negativity, and was able to develop a true empathy for her superior and other nuns who bothered her. In the end, having Scrooges in her life allowed Therese to bloom into the “Little Flower” we all love and admire.
There is no law that says someone has to love Christmas. I have dear friends who are faithful Christians but who turn somewhat sour this time of year. They have a hard time dealing with all the consumerism, canned Christmas music, and tacky, over-the-top decorations that have come to dominate the holiday. Other friends of mine just feel overwhelmed at this time of year and shut down.
If you love the Christmas season, that’s wonderful, but don’t let that translate into putting expectations on your family members and friends that they feel the same way. Respecting the other person’s freedom and giving them space may be the best Christmas present you can give them this year.
It is also important to make a clear distinction between the holy day of Christmas and the much more secular celebration that tends to dominate our culture. Each of us probably has particular secularized traditions that we dislike. For me, it’s Christmas sweaters. When it comes to Christmas sweaters, I am a Scrooge. I hate Christmas sweaters!!!
(Christmas sweater lovers, please feel free to express your outrage in the comments below.)
Grow in gratitude
Has it ever occurred to you that Jesus has put that Scrooge in your life for a reason? Christmas is a time to remember that “a savior has been born for you” (Luke 2: 11) and that as Jesus said, “I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners” (Luke 5:32).
Keeping this in mind, it is possible to recognize how difficult and negative people can actually be a help to us when journeying toward Christmas. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that Christmas is all about gift-giving and being nice to each other. The Scrooges in our lives force us to look past this sentimental understanding of Christmas to reach a deeper judgement about its meaning. That baby you see in the manger came in order to suffer on the cross for our salvation.
With this in mind, we can grow in gratitude that Christ came among us poor sinners — and also in gratitude for the often-difficult people who force us to remember this fact.
Treasure your joy
Whenever a baby is born there is always great joy. It would be strange and rather sick if someone reacted to seeing a newborn by rolling their eyes or turning away in disgust. And if someone did react that way, you would probably regard their reaction as odd or sad, but it would not reduce your own joy and delight at having the baby present in front of you.
It is exactly the same with Christmas. The presence of the Christ Child fills us with wonder, delight, gratitude, and joy. Not even a hundred Scrooges can take away from that fact. The best response we can have to someone who is negative at this time of year is to focus all the more on the amazing fact of the Incarnation. In the words of St. Gregory of Nazianzen: “He who makes rich is made poor; he takes on the poverty of my flesh, that I may gain the riches of his divinity.”
Or, as Scrooge’s nephew Fred tells him quite simply in A ChristmasCarol: “I’ll keep my Christmas humor to the last. So, a Merry Christmas, uncle!”
Love, love, love
Most of all, Christmas is evidence of the great love that God has for us. He knew that we would reject him and yet he came anyway in order to bring us back to him. This overpowering love is at the heart of Christmas. It is offered to everyone, even to the Scrooges in your life.
One of my favorite prayers is a Prayer to Mary composed by Fr. Léonce de Grandmaison. The second half of the prayer goes:
Give me a sweet and humble heart that loves without asking to be loved in return,
happy to lose itself in the heart of others,
sacrificing itself in front of your Divine Son;
a great and unconquerable heart, which no ingratitude can close and no indifference can tire;
a heart tormented by the glory of Christ,
pierced by his love with a wound that will not heal until heaven.
I can think of no better prayer as we approach the manger in the company of the fellow Scrooges who we have been given to accompany us on our journey.