Red Cups at Christmastime

I think the holiday season, particularly in years as unexpected and challenging as 2020, holds with it a certain expectancy of nostalgic cheer. We want comforting and familiar people, places and things to soothe us and provide relief, perhaps hope of rescue.

There is certainly nothing wrong about our need for comfort and grounding. After all, we thrive—not when our systems are overloaded with stress and dysregulation—but rather when we are restored in connection, peace, and safety.

In that regard it can be comical to see our attempts for the quick fix of sentimental respite: I legitimately noticed Christmas decorations back in October, and let’s be honest—when I was at Starbucks the other day and discovered they had run out of red holiday cups (now forced to drink out of the standard white cardboard cup), I felt momentary disappointment. Why? Because “red” communicates the season. My system is now wired down a path of nostalgic expectancy when the red cups come out. And I love it.

But what happens when the red cups are gone? When there is no fulfillment of expectancy? What about when the holiday season ends, not with joy and satisfaction, but a sense of lingering grief and unmet need? What about when the old standards of comfort and joy bring none of it?

C.S. Lewis talks about the “lifelong nostalgia” of our humanity, our “longing to be reunited with something…from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside.” He says it is “no mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation” (C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory).

I appreciate Lewis’ perspective. He acknowledges that it is only human to hunger for the fulfillment of our longing and need. He frames holiday listlessness in a different way. He helps us understand that perpetual hunger—a restless nostalgia—is alerting us to the fact that we long to arrive in a place of comfort, bonding, satisfaction and rest.

In this way, the sentimentality of the holidays calls us homeward, despite the fact that it often cannot deliver. Even the most joyful holidays hold with them a level of frustration and pain, loneliness and grief. “Home” is not peaceful, family is not perfect, and true rest is illusive.

In a year like 2020, many are still looking for a path home. Some didn’t make it this year. Others did, but it was vastly different than normal. In this case, where do we find a deeper and truer grounding than even our good plans can bring? A home that doesn’t shift when circumstances do. A love that secures us when people and places cannot.

For Christians, Jesus offers a door. He is not mere folklore, but a person whose entrance into our earthly home, points towards the Home for all humanity. When our systems are dysregulated and aching, when nostalgia doesn’t satisfy, His very being gives us a secure touchpoint. God is our spiritual home. And in Christ, our human flesh has an anchor—an assurance that our humanity, our flesh and blood, can touch the divine—and find rest.

As we enter into 2021, we can feel the appreciation of nostalgic expectancy. We can enjoy the blessings that we receive and the little fulfillments of red cups. But when holiday joy is diffused or gone completely, we can open to the anchoring and securing of the One person who tells us the story of Home. C.S. Lewis assures us that when we enter in through that Door, we find “both glory and honour beyond all our merits and also the healing of that old ache.” (C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory)

And that, my friends, is a fulfillment that will complete and never disappoint us. Happy New Year!


Abbey Foard MA, LPC, NCC

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