Peace and joy get a lot of airtime during the holiday season, but there’s another seasonal emotion that is sadly left out in the cold: jealousy. That’s right. And it fits right into the Christmas story. Think about it: how do you think Joseph felt when he found out his girlfriend was pregnant, and he knew for a fact that he hadn’t known her that way? Surely jealousy seeped into his thoughts at some point, especially when he wondered who was responsible for the pregnancy. Sure, an angel appeared in the nick of time to tell him everything was on the up and up, but I’ll bet Mary almost got the boot.
Then, contrary to Christmas cards and manger scenes, it wasn’t until a couple of years later that the wise men dropped by Jerusalem to find the king of the Jews. They decided to ask King Herod where the new baby king was residing. In jealous (and sneaky) fashion, Herod said, oh my, yes, he wanted them to find this new king and then please let him know where the baby was. Fortunately, they skipped the second part. Unfortunately, King Herod’s jealousy towards this potential threat to his throne was so strong that he killed all the Jewish male children of the same age as Jesus — two years old. But Joseph had had another angelic visit, and moved his family to Egypt, again in the nick of time, so Jesus was saved (see Matthew 2).
Envy, jealousy’s sibling, is another emotion mingled with the smell of gingerbread and roasting turkey. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines jealousy as being suspicious of a rival or someone believed to have an advantage, while envy is grumpily checking out or actually wanting what someone else has. So you can be jealous of someone who’s moving in on your position at work, but envious of her car. By that measure, Christmas is dripping with opportunities for envy: Think of all the
commercials about wanting and needing, and all the pretty gifts changing hands. The day-after rush to exchange much of what we received becomes almost inevitable. According to KPMG, an international tax, audit and advisory firm, price isn’t the big factor in gift purchases; a good return policy is. Why? Because we know that by December 26th our family and friends will have a brand new wish-list composed of all the things they didn’t get. As will we. Sure, we justify it by saying the prices are unbeatable, but really, Boxing Day has more to do with covetousness than discounts.
Think you’re not the jealous or envious type? Take the test and find out.
The good news is that these emotions can be a positive motivator if we use them as such. Here’s a personal example: I’ve been jealous of “Harry Potter Woman.” That’s what I’ve called her for ages — you know, the one who has amassed acclaim and wealth beyond our wildest imaginings? My brain refused to memorize the name “J.K. Rowling” because of the jealousy that would nibble at my mind when I was reminded of her success. However, once I examined my feelings, I saw that what I really want is to pursue my fiction writing more, to expand that horizon, whatever the outcome — to take the risk. That and my resulting plan for action have erased my jealousy. Granted, a published novel will help me even more, but acknowledging the real source of the jealousy is a start. The same with envy: if we feel we’re missing out on what someone else has and ask ourselves why we feel that way, we can find the source of the unhappiness and then move to change our situation. (See Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, Chapter 7, for more tips on using jealousy positively.)
Will that help over these holidays? Depends how we choose to respond. We can act like King Herod and lash out (note that he wasn’t successful), or we can choose to discover what we’re truly lacking and to pursue what we really need. If that still leaves us truly longing to fight the other Boxing Day shoppers to buy the bigger screen TV or the smaller cell phone, so be it.
Hopefully, though, we’ll prefer to spend the day in our pajamas, playing with our new gifts, and reveling in the peace and joy of the season.