Saturday 3 December 2016

Christmas is not a magical time for all

Published 15/12/2015 | 02:30

Christmas isn't a happy time for everyone. Photo: Getty Images.
Christmas isn't a happy time for everyone. Photo: Getty Images.

If an opinion poll were carried out on Christmas, the country would split down the middle, with each half respectively liking and disliking it. And among the 50pc with negative feelings about it, the reasons would be varied.

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Some would say it reminds them of their childhood poverty when they had very little; others would say that the religious significance has been overtaken by commercial interests. For others, it's a reminder of the violence that they have suffered as a consequence of excessive alcohol. And the lonely feel more isolated and the unloved more bereft then at any other time of year. So, too, the homeless surely feel forgotten and without hope.

The other half would speak of togetherness, family and children. For those who live in happy families, who are sufficiently provided for financially and are not afflicted by any illness, it can be magical, with a vital sense of belonging and being valued.

So our perception of Christmas is closely tied in with our past memories and our current personal circumstances.

There is scientific evidence that deliberate self-harm, most common among women, decreases in the lead up to, and during, the Christmas period, only to increase again in the immediate aftermath.

The explanation for this rests with the central part that women play in the preparations for Christmas, a role that is marked by concern for others and by a reciprocated feeling of being valued.

Once the Christmas period is over, the sense of purpose is believed to diminish as life again become humdrum and routine.

Marital breakdown also increases in the post-Christmas period as the tension of being in the constant company of one who is no longer loved erupts into arguments and sometimes violence.

Even for the most united of families, this long holiday can, at times, be a duty, especially as there is compelling pressure to be snug and loving with personal space at a premium.

And the Christmas cards are replete with images of tables beautifully decorated in red and trimmed with gold, of children happily playing in the snow or of a young infant surrounded by parents and adoring visitors. These reinforce to our desire to be part of that perfect family. These are potent images and remain etched in our consciousness, even as we age.

Christmas is also a time when those who work at breakneck pace during the year are forced out of the workplace as the long recess begins. This is one of its rewards as it affords an opportunity to take stock of values, of life and of our good fortune.

We have the opportunity to contrast it with the plight of those who are destitute, bereaved or ill, but of course, we may choose to avoid such uncomfortable thoughts.

Yet Christmas does not need to be a difficult time, at least for the majority of people. A little forward-planning can significantly reduce the tribulations of losing personal space and can transform it into a time for reflection and renewal.

Indeed, figures from Britain show that again, church attendance is on the increase at times such as Christmas and Easter, as the threat of international violence increases. Many use the transformative power of tragic events to take stock of their lives at this time as they turn to higher powers and images of innocence for comfort.

In practical terms, a walk in the country or a visit to friends for a few days can ease the tension of being in an intense or suffocating environment, even if we are with those we love.

Instead of binge eating and drinking, saying "yes" to moderation will prevent post-Christmas guilt. And we can stretch our imagination by sitting down with a good book.

When we feel worn out by the constant chatter, the abundance of food or the lack of personal space, we should leave and have time in a more sobering place. Above all, we must be realistic about Christmas - modify our expectations to coincide with reality, and so, avoid disappointment.

We must take care of ourselves, mentally, physically and spiritually. Then we will have the stamina to also offer support to those who are less fortunate than we are in the months ahead. Have a restful, peaceful and happy Christmas.

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