This Christmas…May be Depressing
It’s that time of the year again when people all over the world are gearing up for the merriest day of the year. Retailers have anticipated this day so that their sagging profits can catapult into the black. Children have anticipated this day because they can’t wait to open all of the gifts from Santa and their family. And many people are just excited about the time off from work, holiday parties, Christmas programs, time with family, and the nostalgia of old Christmas songs and movies.
Yes, it’s Christmas time again, but you can’t tell. There aren’t many Christmas lights, not much caroling, and not much green and red. What has happened?
Dr. Germaine Hawkins, Psychiatrist and Wellness Advocate, provides one explanation—the economy. Hawkins says, “We work hard throughout the year to provide many needs and wants for our loved ones and especially our children. Christmas is a time where we want to shower them with whatever their heart desires. Not doing so in a tough economy is a harder pill to swallow than simply choosing not to buy a particular gift because of our personal decision. America is the land of opportunity where when you work harder you position yourself in a comfortable privileged position to buy much beyond our basic needs. Christmas, to many of us, makes the rest of the year full of working long hours and making sacrifice after sacrifice all worthwhile if for one day everything is ‘perfect.’ Every wish becomes reality. So in turn telling a loved one we couldn’t buy a particular gift because of tough economic times makes this day ‘not so perfect’ and many times scars our narcissistic egos.”
This is supposed to be the happiest time of the year, but for many this is a horrible time because Christmas depression has taken over. In fact, mental health professionals report an increase in suicides during the month of December due to Christmas depression. Hawkins says that, “Most of us associate Christmas with good times full of bliss, smiles, shared love and gift giving. And fortunately in most homes this is the case. However there is another side not so often spoken or even thought of. There is something uncanny about the Christmas season. It makes us ‘deal with the realities of our families and how we relate to each other’ and far too common are those realities of estrangement, divorce, deaths in the family, and even past memories of emotional abandonment that may refer as far back as our childhood. Right after Thanksgiving as the holiday rituals begin with the decorating of the tree and adornments of our homes so does a lot of anticipatory anxiety of what many of us don’t think of—a sense of regret, remorse, anger and even loneliness.”
Charlie Brown can teach us something about Christmas depression, saying this to Linus, “I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy. I don’t feel like the way I’m supposed to feel. I just don’t understand Christmas, I guess. I like getting presents, and sending Christmas cards, and decorating trees and all that, but I’m still not happy. I always end up feeling depressed.”
Charlie Brown was feeling the “holiday blues” that comes to many Americans every year. Christmas depression has many causes from the economic pressures to “having to deal with our own personal realities,” usually again involve our family dynamics. Maybe there has been a family death since last year and this is the first Christmas without grandma. If we are spending it alone it makes us ask “why?” ‘Why me?’ followed not surprisingly with issues of low self confidence and self esteem. “Maybe it makes us think about how not so great our childhood was especially around this time of year. Possibly we feel guilt over estrangement of a loved one or even not reaching out to family we haven’t talked to in several months or years. Issues of abandonment, neglect, and even abuse may be an un-dealt with part,” says Hawkins. Like Charlie Brown, many people who suffer from Christmas depression think that that they are supposed to feel a certain way, and when they don’t feel in that certain way, they get down.
Just like during Valentine’s Day, media hoopla has historically created these grand ideas of what Christmas should be like for everybody. “You literally have to make a strong effort to not see advertisements, activities or friendly reminders of way a joy-filled time of year Christmas is,” says Hawkins. You have to find that perfect gift to win the affection of your loved ones and your holiday meal has to be perfect also. Kids have to be on their best behavior, or they won’t get any gifts from Santa. Adults have to find extra money in their budgets, or skip some bill payments, to buy the new sneakers or Nintendo Wii game. And people who don’t have money or close family are reminded of their lack. All of this pressure to act like and feel like how you “should” can lead one to Christmas depression.
Charlie Brown was so fed up with his confusion that he began a journey to find the real meaning of Christmas. But, just like now, most of his friends were concerned about the superficial and commercial aspects of the holiday. After facing despair from his failed direction of a Christmas play, Charlie shouts out “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” Then Linus begins to tell the story of Jesus’ birth, the reason for the season.
Some of Christmas depression can be avoided if the focus of the holiday is shifted from commodity to Christ. Yeah, people say it all of the time “Put the Christ back into Christmas,” but what does that really mean? Rudy Rasmus, pastor of St. John’s United Methodist Church in Houston, says this: “First of all the season that we celebrate as Christmas is in its origin a combination of pagan and Judeo-Christian rituals. It was actually an appeasement by government (Constantine) to pacify the followers of Jesus and at the same time not disrupt the ongoing pagan holiday that was celebrated during this same time of the year. Historians trace the birth Christ to midsummer in actuality based on the time of the temple tax and the travels that his family took during the time of his birth. We have to put that in perspective.
Second of all the celebration of Christ birth was sort of a foundational rallying point for the birth narrative [in the Bible} when the guys (Magi, or 3 Wise men) brought gifts. Merchants caught on to the benefits of gift giving out of commercial incentive, with not a lot to do with Christ. When we connect gifts, we are talking about merchandising.
As a form of acknowledging a person birth of the world, we call these birthdays. It is customary that the person celebrating the birth receives gifts, but somehow by way of merchant manipulation we have turned it into giving it to others. When we think about the whole twist, much of the manipulation is at the root of what we know as the Christmas celebration today. It is a misinterpreted holiday. It has been misinterpreted for the benefit of retail economy, not for the benefit of the Christ person.”
Putting the Christ back into Christmas does not mean that everybody needs to convert to the Christian faith, but how about focusing on the character and works of the historic Jesus. Rasmus says that, “Christ always gave, the only times we see him receiving is when it was normally punishment for the sacrificing of his own giving. But we rarely saw him receive gifts for the sake of it. The only other time we see Christ receiving is when the woman poured the oil on his feet and wiped his feet with her hair. The disciples, his comrades, were a little angered about her using expensive oil, which shows that those closest to him didn’t even have a concept of gift giving. Now to pause and reflect on the birth of the founder of the Christian faith, is an honorable ritual practice, but to focus the birth on giving and receiving gifts is sort of a twisted manipulation.”
Rasmus goes on to provide the ultimate example of how to put Christ back into Christmas by saying, “[we can] acknowledge that he was born to sacrifice for others. He came into this world to sacrifice this life for the benefit of others, people that he did not even know. If we take the most simplistic and significant reason for us being born and using Christ as an example: our life being sacrifice for the benefit of others. If we define love in its most simple metaphysical terms is to sacrifice for the spiritual improvement of another person. We get love twisted, but in its most concise definition, is to sacrifice on behalf of that person’s spiritual growth. Jesus’ example for us is to sacrifice; the purpose for our lives is to sacrifice for the betterment of others.”
The 1970s soul group, The Emotions, asked “What Do the Lonely Do at Christmas?” Some isolate themselves, some become Scrooge or the Grinch, some increase their self medicating, and others make the holiday bad for everybody else. But Charlie Brown finally realized that he would not let commercialization trump the real meaning of Christmas or control his emotions.
So, what are some things that you can do if you are feeling the “holiday blues” or even Christmas depression?
Dr. Hawkins has a few tips:
1. Surround yourself with “predictably positive people” (3 Ps). No one who will add an air of pessimism to an already difficult time of year for you.
2. Call a loved one you haven’t spoken to in years. Just to say hello, happy holidays. If you don’t have a spouse or significant other plan to visit places where you will be appreciated (Senior retirement living, volunteer at local non-profit drives, participate in as many activities that leave you feeling needed and appreciated)
3. If you experience severe sadness, feeling of hopelessness, social isolation, sleep disturbance or thoughts of suicide or homicide then you need to seek the professional for a full evaluation which may include medication management.
Pastor Rudy says, “The folk who founded the Menninger (psychiatric) Clinic did some research that said there was a major difference in the depressed person’s life when they found a focus in helping another person, there is a decrease in depression on the person’s life who embraced as purpose helping another person. So to beat the holiday blues, find a purpose beyond self, go beyond that purpose and watch the holiday blues lift.”
Note: Dr. Germaine Hawkins is the author of Love Hangover: Tips for Christian Singles: Moving from Pain to Purpose After a Relationship Ends and Rudy Rasmus is the author of TOUCH: Pressing Against the Wounds of a Broken World.
Faniel is a contributing writer for Regal Black Men’s Magazine.