Christmas – Love It or Hate It?
The Christmas season stirs up a wide variety of emotions.
Our view of Christmas is often shaped by our early childhood experiences of Christmas. For those with fond memories of Christmas, the season is a nostalgic time to recreate the wonder and magic of Christmas. For others not so fortunate, Christmas is a trigger to memories of a painful time; parents who drank and fought too much, and little or no Christmas festivities and excitement.
Some people have more neutral memories of Christmas. It wasn’t overly celebrated in their home, and memories of Christmas are of a simpler time. As an adult, Christmas can feel too commercialized, forced, and over-done. Many people resent the obligations and expectations that come with Christmas. They hate the fuss, the obligatory presents, forced staff parties, and family gatherings with relatives they don’t like.
How we celebrate or don’t celebrate Christmas is reflected in both our early experiences of Christmas and our personal values. If we love tradition, are nostalgic about Christmas, and love decorating, shopping, and cooking, we tend to love Christmas. Even if we had positive Christmas experiences, we may grow to dislike materialism and consumerism, and develop a dislike of the season. Yet many people with negative Christmas experiences, embrace Christmas. They have come to value family traditions, and treasure the opportunity to give their own children wonderful Christmas memories.
Even though not everyone loves Christmas, it’s easy to feel you are in the minority if you don’t like it. Everywhere you go, Christmas music is blaring and decorations are everywhere. Commercials start flooding the airwaves in November, with images of families that may not resemble your family or your life.
Christmas can be particularly difficult for those who have recently lost a loved one, or those who lost a loved one during the Christmas season. Christmas can highlight feelings of depression, loneliness, and dissatisfaction with our lives and relationships. Family tensions or family estrangements can make Christmas a particularly difficult time. Because Christmas can be a challenging time for many, it is often thought that the season results in increased suicides. Harvard University Press claims that this is not true, but rather a myth. In fact, statistics show that the rate of suicide is fairly constant throughout the year. It rises slightly after the holidays in January and peaks in early spring.
The Harvard Press theorizes that the holiday season can be a protective factor for those at risk of suicide. The togetherness can lessen the chances of suicide as people feel more connected or obliged to make it through the holiday season. * Even though it’s a myth that suicides are highest at Christmas, it is true that Christmas is a difficult time for many people. It’s also true that while Christmas can encourage others to hang in there, loneliness and depression can deepen after all the visiting and celebration is over.
If you don’t like Christmas, or just don’t like Christmas this year, it can be helpful to give yourself permission to sit it out. Those who love Christmas can help those who don’t, by accepting their experience without cajoling, shaming, or treating them like there is something wrong with them. The greatest gift we can give to others is the gift of understanding and acceptance. Because Christmas can be a time of hope for those who are hurting, continue to reach out to those around you. COVID-19 may prevent you from extending Christmas invitations, but a phone call or a homemade gift can make a big difference to those who are alone this season. And because of COVID restrictions, more people than ever will find themselves alone at Christmas.
If you are alone and lonely this Christmas, reach out to others, and don’t forget your EFAP provider counsellors are there to provide support. And if you are someone who believes in the magic of Christmas, find a way to spread that magic to a child who may not otherwise have a magical Christmas experience. Have a safe and happy holiday season, however you choose, or don’t choose, to celebrate.
Jenny DeReis, MC Psych, RCC
*Joiner, T. (2010). Myths about suicide. Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press.