Christmas Blues

Retailers make billions around this date. Lawyers experience the greatest number of acrimonious family disputes around this date. And all kinds of people have Mount Everest expectations, hopes and dreams about the fantastical family celebration that must occur on this date. The date to which I refer is December 25th, or Christmas Day.

You know how it is. The sounds of songs like Holly Jolly Christmas and I’ll be Home for Christmas fill the bustling over-crowded shopping malls. Sparkling lights and glittering decorations begin to surface along roof lines, on business store fronts and on lamp posts in suburban neighbourhoods. Not long after, festive invitations for Christmas gatherings and expensive charity galas arrive before the month is out. And everyone is exhilarated, anticipating the joy of the season, you are so very sure.

Except maybe you.

You are not quite feeling it this year, you say to yourself. In fact when you reflect on it you haven’t quite felt it for a number of years. Maybe, if truth be told, you actually really haven’t ever liked Christmas much at all, and you start to wonder what is wrong with you.

You are certain that no one else seems to mind the endless hours of dogging the unending string of mall retail stores, after a fatiguing workday, looking for the ideal present, which you cannot truly afford and which never seems to end up being just right for some people on your shopping list. You know for sure that no one else ever mentions that they really don’t want to attend their spouse’s stuffy formal office gathering, or their kids boisterous hockey team pizza party in the local church basement, on their only Friday evening off. You are convinced that no one else has ever thought that they absolutely abhor travelling five gruelling hours on the 401, in their eight-year-old economy sedan, jam packed with three overtired, whiny little ones, a new untrained Christmas puppy and a trunk load of unneeded gifts sure to be just the wrong size or the wrong colour. And all of that of course on Christmas Day, after Santa has arrived at 4 a.m., and the kids have ripped open their gifts and run around like wild men for several hours, all in order to share two almost identical turkey dinners, with two almost identical sets of dour in-laws who never accepted him from the day he married their precious daughter!

‘So what is it with me?’ you ask yourself.

‘Why am I turning into a Scrooge who secretly dislikes the biggest holiday of the year?’ you wonder.

‘Why do I hate all the hype, all the fuss, all the stress, and keep it to myself that I am actually a closet Christmas Grinch?’

This is the question that drifts through your mind, over and over like a hamster on an endless run on his circular treadmill seeking an escape from perpetual incarceration between the four wire walls that he calls his home.

Let me help you out. The answer is not that difficult. Pretty easy to understand actually.

The astronomically high expectations for having one’s emotional needs met by the celebratory customs most of us require ourselves to participate in at Christmas are often quite unrealistic and usually cannot deliver the goods! Unhappy negative feelings regarding past relationships and situations get triggered by the sights, sounds, conversations, activities and expectations that are everywhere in the last two months of the year.The gigantic disconnect between what you feel and have experienced, and what you think should be the case, creates those lousy, depressed, melancholic feelings and ideas that transform you into the Grinch incarnate, with a full blown breakout of Christmas Blues.

Be assured you are not alone. There is a growing cohort of us in who truly wish Christmas would just go away. Christmas Blues is as prevalent as the common cold.

The fact of the matter is most of us do not have the warm fuzzy connections in our families that movies, television, music, magazines, colleagues, friends, family and society might assume exist. Many of our families have members who do not get along, have no real emotional connection any more, and scads of us are impacted by divorce or serial partnerships.

We still however, want to believe and hold to that fantasy that we are that perfect communicative loving generous kind compatible fun-loving kissy huggy family group for at least one day. So we put on a ‘happy face’ and set out to attain an unreachable goal that is routinely driven not only by retailers, media, and the practices in our social network but by our own unmet emotional needs, often rooted in childhood or previous life situations with other people.

If you are like so many of us with less than perfect storybook families, you might lessen your negative thoughts and feelings about this holiday and avoid passing along your dislike for this time of year to your children. That would be such a wonderful gift in itself! You definitely can change the channel on this for your family if you choose.

You will need to step off the wire however and it might feel a bit uncomfortable. Others in your network might not like it either, so prepare yourself for judgements, opinions and criticism. ‘Old habits die hard’ they say. But if you just stay the course you can create new attitudes, customs and feelings about the Christmas you really want and can enjoy, both for yourself and for your family.

A self-help exercise might be all you need to cure what ails you. You will need a few quiet hours away from the fray with a pad and pencil or a word processing program on a device. Write up all the memories you have from your childhood and earlier life, about Christmas and how you felt about them. Be as thorough and complete as you must be on your taxes for Revenue Canada, putting down every negative situation that occurred in your early years that comes to mind and with which you associate such feelings as sadness, disappointment, frustration, anger or stress. Worry not about grammar, spelling or format. Just get those memories down and say how you feel about them.

Then study your notes, as a Pulitzer Prize author studies the characters he or she tries to portray with words in an unfinished biography. Let understanding about why you have grown to dislike Christmas, seep into your brain and heart and swish slowly around until you get it. Reflect empathically on the people in those memories who were less than perfect but who greatly impacted your feelings about the holiday. Accept that they likely did the best they could with who they were and what they had. Make a conscious decision to put the past behind you and not let it have any more power over your feelings. Then shred those notes. Or better yet burn them, savouring the image of the flames that are extinguishing the words, feelings and long forgotten events that had a death hold on your emotional peace which was hijacked long ago in Christmases past.

Then breathe in a renewed forward looking attitude, feel a smile spread out your lips and squint up your eyes, and let your creative spirits soar with positivity. Open the floodgates of your thinking about a whole new way of celebrating Christmas based on your current intimate family, your personal values and your individual needs. Lower all expectations. Keep it simple. Stay well within a budget. Pay for things only in cash, right now.

Consider politely boycotting all outside parties and gatherings you truly do not enjoy. Consider having activities in your own place, with people you genuinely like and people who truly want to be there. Consider eliminating all outside triggers for negative feelings by controlling the type and content of music you listen to, by pre recording non-traditional films and shows you want to take in, powering off the cell phone more often and by avoiding Christmas-crazed shopping establishments. Consider a family gift exchange that can only be gifts that are personally made by the giver, or be gifts of time or service which have no cash value. Consider a Christmas Day schedule that includes such family activities as an outdoor walk or cross country ski on a snowy nature trail; a new and unique family meal which everyone makes, serves and cleans up together; a family excursion to a nursing home to spend fun time with residents who will have no visitors; a family team game like ‘Pictionary’ or dance lessons in doing the twist or hip hop, attempted by old and young alike; or a visit to a place of worship that spiritually nourishes your heart and soul.

Christmas should be about the message of love for each other that a sweet baby boy brought to the world some 2000 years ago. It should be about peace, gratitude and sharing good times with our closest loved ones. It should ferment delicious warm feelings and unforgettable cherished memories for our children.

Those of us who have experienced Christmas blues are capable of changing the momentum of the spiralling spread of this condition for our progeny. Let us step out of the disingenuous, commercial, and material ruts in the well worn bumpy road of Christmas traditions that no longer serve many of us well. May we meet with success in finding new ways to celebrate the age old holiday in less stressful, more meaningful and more emotionally satisfying ways, so Christmas blues can be eliminated for everyone!