We’re hurting and a Netflix Christmas movie isn’t the answer

I love Netflix Christmas Movies. Despite what is often horrendous acting and incredibly predictable plot lines, I love when November rolls around and the advertisement flashes across that black and red screen that “Christmas Prince 5″ is coming out in two weeks.

I’m a sucker for Romantic Comedies. For my wife and I, it’s always been one of our go-to fun facts whenever we’re really getting to know new friends or another couple. You know those moments when someone says “tell us about you guys,” and you rattle off three or four pre-rehearsed things as if you’ve never been asked that question before? We always answer something like, “Well, let’s see,” while looking at one another communicating with our eyebrows who should take it this time. She inevitably wins and turns to the question asker:

“We don’t have any pets, we love board games, we drive a Subaru. And, oh yeah, Jake loves romantic comedies.” It always gets a laugh, mostly because people think we’re joking, and we smile and laugh along knowing all the while it’s the real deal.

Hey, love us for us, right?

But Netflix, man, they’ve done something special with their Christmas Movies. Every year, they get away with C- material that people like me eat for breakfast. Somehow, despite knowing that I’m about to spend an hour and a half of my life that I will never be able to get back watching The Princess Switch: Switched Again, I indulge. Part of it is because I’m a hopeless romantic, but the other part of it is because I am genuinely curious how they could make a second movie with practically the exact same plotline. It’s even in the title. Switched Again. But give me some Belgravia or some Aldovia and I’m in. Throw in a little popcorn and a decorated Christmas Tree in front of a fire and I’d basically give you anything in the world.

You get the point. Christmas Movies, especially the Netflix versions, can be pretty magical. And yet, especially these days, they can also be an unsatisfying distraction from the pain and difficulty that a lot of us are facing right now.

As of writing this, my wife and I are hoping to go home and spend the Christmas Holiday with our families. We know we’re fortunate to even be able to contemplate the opportunity as many people around the world are simply unable to spend the holiday with their loved ones.

But before we get to the part with presents and Christmas cookies and stockings, we’ve got to make it through another week of work. We both work in jobs that haven’t shut down throughout the pandemic but in some ways have only increased. I work for a church and my wife, who’s a saint in human flesh, works as a nurse in the pediatric ICU. Children’s Hospitals all over the world have been hit hard by the pandemic in ways no one really thought imaginable, but nevertheless, week-in-week-out, my wife is loving families through some of the hardest moments of their lives, including COVID-19.

But even then, we know that we’re fortunate. We thank God to even have jobs that have been consistent through this time as millions of people haven’t been as lucky. We are grateful each evening for the dinner we eat and the fact that we could afford to get a real Christmas Tree this year and still do most of our family traditions. At night, we lie down together and don’t overlook the fact that because of this pandemic, many people are out of their homes, and in positions, they wouldn’t have fathomed a little over a year ago.

The Christmas season is typically full of lights and cheer. It’s a time for many where things just seem to go right in the world. Where friendships are restored and families are reunited. Where love blossoms and joy is abundant. There are usually presents, ice-skating, mistletoes, and wonky looking snowmen who melt before anyone can critique our artwork too harshly.

It’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, as the Target Home and Hearth sign that hangs above our mantle declares.

But this year, it’s not. Or at least not really. And I actually think there is something pretty incredible about that fact, as hard as it may sound.
This year, it seems like we’re all hurting. The majority of us are in a position where, maybe for the first time, we feel pain and we can empathize with one another.

For a lot of people, the Christmas season is incredibly difficult and strenuous. My wife and I have multiple close family members who have passed away in recent years between the middle of November and Christmas. Each year, while things are joyful, the pain and loss of these people from our lives are hard to adjust to. A lot of people have a similar story. For others, Christmas is a reminder of a disappointment, a letdown, a broken marriage, or maybe a broken family. It can be a season marked by hardship and brokenness.

This year, the world gets a chance to collectively grieve the hard things. We get to look back over the past year and admit the moments where we felt like everything was against us and we didn’t see a way out. We get to let the tears fall down our face without trying to catch them and shove them back in. We get to, together, awaken once more to the reality of this season — life is hard, but that doesn’t mean it can’t still be good.

Joy isn’t about the number of presents under the tree. It’s not about Pentatonix and their dazzling acapella Christmas songs, although don’t get me started on We Need A Little Christmas which has been playing in our house since about November 12th because come on, we do. And joy certainly isn’t found in the C- quality Netflix Christmas Movies that always seem to resolve in a picture-perfect ending (I’m not hating on it. True love wins all, right?)

Rather, this year, I hope you can see the good inside the pain, the hope inside the hurting. I hope you can smile at the person next to you on the couch and lean over and give them a quick hug and a kiss on the forehead. I hope you can send a close friend an unexpected gift, or make up a new holiday tradition with your quaran-team. I hope you can smile if you have a turkey or tacos if you get one present or 100.

Whatever your days look like, whatever shadow may be surrounding you, I hope you know that you’re not alone. There are people out there just like you. We get it. We’re in a spot that’s probably more similar to you than different. And if all else fails, I can vouch that A California Christmas is about as good as it sounds if you know what I mean.

You got this. You’re stronger than you know.

This article originally appeared in Medium.