By Alan Caruba
My memories of Christmas as a child include a run down the stairs to find stockings hanging from the fireplace and boxes of gifts. After the excitement of opening them, there was a family dinner for myself, an older brother, and my parents. Since my Mother was a teacher of haute cuisine, even the traditional turkey and other dishes were a special treat, but the fact is that the family ate like royalty for all the years we were together. An internationally honored authority on wine, it was a daily part of our lives.Since Mother had taught many people how to cook and dine as a gourmet, her students sent cards and we would festoon the living room by pinning them to ribbons as decoration for the holiday. I knew early on that she was an extraordinary woman and much loved by her students and others with whom she came in contact. She wrote two cookbooks. My Father was her greatest fan and rarely left the dinner table without pausing to give her a hug and a kiss.
Christmas was a day to enjoy and we did. As I grew older the story of Santa Claus was replaced with purchasing gifts for the family. As I grew even older, first my Father passed away and then my Mother. Single by choice, my family became an older brother in a distant state, a nephew and a niece, both living distantly. So Christmas became a very quiet, solitary day.
All this might sound a bit depressing, but it is not my life that I regard in that fashion. Rather it is the incessant commercialism of Christmas combined with the media-driven expectations about the holiday that include a growing number of films, both classic and more recent, that fill the television airwaves night after night. You must be merry because it’s Christmas is the message and, if you’re not, there must be something wrong with you.
Between the endless commercials found in both the print and broadcast media, it is hard, if not impossible, to escape the constant demands to spend on everything from a new car to various kinds of gifts. The pressure builds the closer one gets to Christmas and, for many, it is daunting.
So, the dirty secret about Christmas is that it is often accompanied by feelings of depression, mild or intense, and too many people think there is, as mentioned, something wrong with themselves. There isn’t. It’s normal and there are ways to cope and overcome it.
Those happy childhood memories are not shared by everyone. Some grew up in dysfunctional families and recall the stress of the holiday. As an adult you have permission to put those memories aside and, if you have your own family, to create happier ones for children and loved ones. It can be as simple as creating your own family traditions such as a trip to church or volunteering to help others less fortunate.
For those with aging parents, Christmas is a reminder of the problems that might accompany this and, yes, this too can be depressing if you dwell on it. Aging, however, is just a part of life and we all must make our peace with it.
Winter is associated with Seasonal Affect Disorder (SAD) because of the early onset of darkness or just the too often overcast weather. Though cold, a short walk during the daylight hours, perhaps at lunchtime, is a useful way to avoid this or just by sitting by a window where the sun comes in. Exercise is a year-long way to ward off or reduce depression as it increases the heart rate and releases endorphins in the brain. You can exercise anywhere so a trip to an expensive gym is not necessary.
A frequently unspoken aspect of Christmas is the expectation to join family gatherings or events associated with the holiday. You may not wish to do this and, if not, you should find a good excuse to avoid them. Being surrounded by relatives of whom you’re not particularly fond is hardly a definition of merriment.
There are millions unemployed in the nation and, for them, Christmas just adds to their debts. Putting a limit on one’s spending is the sensible thing to do whether one is employed or not. Don’t apologize. A lousy economy is not your fault. And, beyond the economy, there are world events over which you have no control. On Christmas, you can and should ignore them.
If you are suffering from an on-going depression that requires therapy or medical intervention, taking action should be a priority, but for most Christmas is a trigger for general, often unfocused feelings, heightened by the recognition that time is moving along relentlessly. The New Year is a good time to find some focus and then to take action to address one’s problems. Give yourself permission to do some interesting, fun things. You can and should do it.
If any of this resonates with you, know that you are not alone. Indeed, these are feelings shared by millions, by family members, by friends, and by coworkers.
So, yes, have a Merry Christmas and make it one designed to be what you want it to be, not what endless messages of holiday cheer make you feel you have to be or do.
© Alan Caruba, 2013