Here are two questions for you: first, are you an introvert or an extrovert? Second, how does that make you feel about the Christmas season?
Mixed bag, right?
I finally bought my own copy of Susan Cain’s terrific book Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. I mention this because I have this theory that the Christmas season is when the differences between introverts and extroverts are in many ways the most obvious. Without going into too much detail, most of us know that extroverts generally love to socialize and are typically energized by crowds and parties and gatherings. Introverts usually prefer to avoid that kind of big-gathering socializing in favor of quiet evenings with a few friends, or maybe staying happily at home with a Windham Hill Christmas CD and a good book. Given those two extremes, my theory goes, introverts have more trouble with the American Retail Christmas than extroverts.
We know that expectations run rampant this time of year. The American Retail Christmas would tell us that our December is incomplete unless we (a) shop incessantly and (b) socialize relentlessly. Christmas, beginning roughly with the dreadfully named Black Friday, is one continuous round of planning, spending, wrapping, partying, traveling here and there, greeting housefuls of family and guests, and on and on. No wonder many introverts struggle to satisfy (and justify) their deep longing for the quiet reflection and gentle presence of treasured friends that should also be part of this season.
Face it: the Christmas of the manger (“How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given”) has been hijacked, turned instead into the Christmas of the mall. And, I suggest, many introverts thus feel left out, cheated, disenfranchised.
I confess to being what Susan Cain calls an ambivert — reasonably comfortable in both the extrovert camp and that of the introvert. That said, a couple of thoughts: first, as I write this, Christmas Day is a week away. It’s not too late to insist (quietly, of course) on celebrating the gentler, more reflective, more meaningful experience that you long for. And for those introverts who really must have it both ways, Susan Cain’s book gives some excellent ideas on how to be true to your introverted identity while strategically adopting some of the extroverted skill set.
Second, if you’re an introvert burdened with CGS (“Christmas Guilt Syndrome”), stop apologizing! If a quiet night at home with the glow of the Christmas tree fills you with longing, and the office party or neighborhood open house fills you with dread, you’re not weird (even though your party-hearty extroverted friends may want to make you feel that way). If you must make an appearance at the social gathering, for business or personal reasons, go ahead and go — but leave when you can and look forward to the peace of your own home and hearth.
Finally, even though there’s but a week to go until The Day, the centuries old Church calendar provides some welcome perspective. The observance of Advent stands as a quiet counterpoint to the noise of the American Retail Christmas, with Advent’s very introverted emphasis on personal preparation (the internal kind) and expectation of what God is about to do (“Let every heart prepare Him room”). Also, thanks to various feast days and other traditions, Christmas doesn’t have to end on the 25th. Let the observance linger. Leave the tree up and invite friends over. Keep the Windham Hill CD playing a bit longer. While your extrovert friends are collapsing in a collective heap after the breathless rush of another American Retail Christmas, you’ll be quietly energized by the joy of the Christmas observance you’ve always longed for.
So Merry Christmas — and God bless us, every one — the extroverts and the introverts!