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I love Christmas season. In many ways, it is the most wonderful time of the year. I even find myself humming along with Andy Williams, not that I have plans for jingle bell ringing or mistltoeing this Christmas, but I do hope my “heart will be glowing/When love ones are near.”
But, Christmas isn’t like that for thousands, nor has it always been for me. Christmas can be one of the loneliest times of the year, especially for those whose loved ones aren’t near or are even gone forever. The fact is, for many, Christmas is far from “the hap-happiest season of all.”
And you don’t have to be single and alone or separated from loved ones to feel the bleakness of Christmas. Being smothered by too much family can prompt heartache, too. As Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo) blurted out in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation: “I don’t know what to say, except it’s Christmas and we’re all in misery.”
Psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health professionals see a spike in suicides and attempted suicides during this season, and one study reports that 45 percent of respondents dreaded the holidays.
The reasons? Often, it’s because we over expect, over spend, and over analyze: We expect perfect moments, and are disappointed when we don’t have them, spend too much, then weep when the credit card bill arrives, and all the while, we’re thinking too much about ourselves - all that we aren’t and all that we don’t have materially or relationally.
The season itself was never supposed to be the focus. It’s like buying an expensive gift for someone’s birthday, dressing up, thinking about what the party will mean, and then upon arriving, ignoring the birthday boy or girl.
It can cast a grand sadness on the partiers.
Especially if you are having trouble loving the ones you’re with or longing for those who are absent.
So, if “everyone telling you ‘Be of good cheer” elicits a “bah humbug” response from you, perhaps these suggestions may help.
Resist the temptation to beat yourself up for cringing when Christmas season rolls around. That will only exacerbate the situation. Most people experience loneliness from time to time. The events and pressures of the holidays only heighten the likelihood that you will encounter some form of melancholy during this time. Accept it.
Instead of fearing loneliness like the plague and fleeing it by rushing to replace it with superficial activities, receive aloneness as a gift. I’m certainly not suggesting you become reclusive or that you feed your gloominess by deliberately secluding yourself, but the remedy for feeling blue isn’t going to be found in busyness, for when the activities cease, your sadness will return. Learn to appreciate the solitude, using it as an opportunity to reflect on where and who you are in relation to the eternal and others. Sometimes our deepest insights come when we have no one to talk with, when we are on our own and apart from others.
Walking the road less traveled doesn’t mean you walk alone. Turning your attention to others diverts your attention from yourself and your own lack. Look to see how you can help someone else.
Think of George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life) contemplating suicide. Suddenly, he dives into the water to save Clarence (Henry Travers), George’s guardian angel. That solitary act of valor set in motion a series of events that revealed to George who he was and what was really important to him. Remember what George said near the end of the movie when he returned to the same bridge? “Get me back to my wife and kids! Help me Clarence, please! Please! I wanna live again. I wanna live again. Please, God, let me live again.”
Even when it’s impossible to get back to your family or have it like it once was, you can still cry out with a desire to live again and embrace each present moment.
The baby born in the manger would know total aloneness, for he was not only born in what most considered a God forsaken corner of the earth called Bethlehem - but he would cry out 33 years later, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
He is the One who can feel what you’re feeling, and standing in you and by your side, give you your life and even more: He can make it last beyond the Christmas season.
And that can turn into not just the most wonderful time of year, but something far better: a most wonderful life.
Editor’s note: Contact David B. Whitlock, Ph.D., at email@example.com or visit his website,www.davidbwhitlock.com.