Marion Pellicano Ambrose
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year”, isn’t that how the song goes? Everywhere we look it says we should be merry, filled with joy, celebrating the season…. This may be true for many people, but according to Psychology Today, 45% of North Americans dread the holiday season. Why?
The first reason I think of is one that my husband voices each year. He hates the commercialism of Christmas and the holidays. Every year it seems retailers start decorating and advertising earlier and earlier. Thanksgiving has all but disappeared between Halloween and the beginning of Christmas season. It’s also this commercialism that might cause reason # 2 for the holiday blues – finances. Who has the money in this economy for joyful Christmas shopping? We’re all counting pennies trying to stretch the budget to pay bills, buy food and necessities. Salary freezes and cuts, increased costs and loss of income for so many have made this season more difficult than ever.
According to the National Institute of Health, the incidences of depression, suicide and attempted suicide are increasing. Some of this depression seems to stem from people comparing what they have (or rather, that they don’t have) with others who are more fortunate. This is true of both adults and children. We look at wealthier folks and feel that if we had their money and possessions, all our problems would be solved. I have to admit, the thought has crossed my mind that winning the lottery might do it for me, but then I look at the stories of all these people who have everything they could want, and they’re more depressed than I am!
Another reason, and one I keenly feel myself, is that this season triggers memories and a longing for those loved ones who have passed on. We remember the warm and loving times spent in the past and become nostalgic and sad. We seem to only remember the best of times and become entangled in the past, making the present and future seem bleak and hopeless. I find myself thinking back to when my Dad placed a lighted candle in the window every Christmas Eve, and my Mom pinned holly and poinsettias on the crisp white curtains she only put up at Christmas. I remember caroling in the snow with all my friends, followed by all of us returning to my house for pizza and Coca Cola (one of the few times we were allowed to have soda). My mom had those little Christmas boxes, like the ones animal crackers come in, filled with hard candy ribbon and other holiday treats. I’m sure you have memories of Christmas past that you reflect on too.
The final reason for feeling depressed at this time of year, that I sometimes feel, is the pressure of social obligations. The parties, visiting relatives, “making the rounds”, as my father used to call it. The baking, getting the right gifts for the right person and wrapping them, gaining weight from all the goodies, having the right clothes for each party, decorating, and on and on and on! Most of the time I enjoy all these things, but sometimes there just aren’t enough hours in the day and I spend the night worrying about getting it all done!
So what do I do with all this nostalgia, stress and depression? Sometimes, I do the wrong things. I feel sorry for myself and eat, or I get stressed and snap at my family for no reason. But I’ve learned some good things to do to help me keep from sinking into the blues this time of year.
The first thing I do is think of all I have to be grateful for. (Counting my blessings instead of sheep as Bing Crosby used to sing.) I think of how awesome my husband and children are, and how lucky I am to have them. I think of my home – not the biggest of fanciest, but it’s comfortable and filled with love. I think of the gift I was given in becoming a teacher, and all my wonderful friends and family members.
Another thing I do, especially when I’m missing my parents or other loved ones who are gone now, is I carry on the traditions that I remember doing with them. I bake like my mom did, I light the candle like my dad and I decorate every nook and cranny of my house, just as I remember my childhood house being decorated. We have no snow, but I taught my students Christmas Carols in all different languages and took them to nursing homes to sing. We brought the residents the candy ribbons (and warm socks too).
Since funds are in short supply, I’m making a lot of my gifts- Cakes, cookie trays, lap quilts, and ceramic gifts. I shop on ebay and have even chosen some of my own valued possessions to pass on to others as a gift. I don’t mean regifting the fruitcake, I mean giving a piece of jewelry that holds meaning for me, or one of my Precious Moments statues.
As far as the commercialism, there isn’t too much I can do about that, except to keep the real meaning of Christmas alive in my heart and my home. My lladro nativity is a main centerpiece in my living room and my tree is full of angels, shepherds, wise men and stars to remind us of what the season is about. When my kids were little, I made a white angel food cake each Christmas and we lit the candles and sang happy birthday to the baby Jesus. I also watch all the corny Hallmark specials and animated Christmas stories on TV. They help to keep me focused on what's important.
So what about the pressure of social engagements? My husband and I worked out a routine that works for us. We spend Christmas Eve at his mom’s and Christmas in our own home. I go to my work Christmas party and he goes to his. We accept invitations to friends’ parties, but are careful not to stretch ourselves too thin. My husband is definitely the social type. Fortunately, many of my friends have husbands who feel the same. We tend to have “girls night” activities that are fun and no pressure.
The final, and probably the most fulfilling thing I do to beat the blues, is to volunteer. Helping with a food and toy giveaway with Families of the Shield goes a long way in giving me the true Christmas spirit! The Shield provides a full meal and toys for families of first responders in financial need (fire/rescue, police officers and military). Last year we had 200 families. This year we hope to help 300. What a wonderful way to thank first responders for putting their lives on the line for the rest of us every day of the year! I also make a point of going to the Center For Great Apes to wrap treats for the chimps and orangutans and then helping at open house when visitors come to see them get their wrapped gifts. It’s amazing to see these creatures get so excited over their wrapped boxes filled with dried fruit and nuts, or a hat or scarf that they put on right away! They get the best of care and lots of love, which they so richly deserve after the terrible treatment they had when they were in circuses, side shoes of in show business.
I’m sure there are many other ways to lift spirits during the holiday season. I’d be happy to hear what you do to “keep your season bright”. If you have an idea or suggestion, post it in comments. You might just help someone to have a happy holiday!