When glad tidings and good cheer don't quite cut it
Published 18/12/2015 | 02:30
This week marks the start of the real Christmas madness. And judging by the queues in Dundrum Town Centre, the sweaty, crowded pubs and the fact that calls to several restaurants to nab a booking were met with a negative, the festive frenzy is in full swing.
Frank Sinatra once urged the world to "have themselves a merry little Christmas" in song. But this may prove impossible for all those who suffered loss this year. Those who became unemployed; those mourning the death of a loved one; those who said goodbye to an emigrating son or daughter; those diagnosed with a serious illness or those who are going through a marriage separation.
What is it about Christmas and the raw emotions it unearths? Maybe it is not the most wonderful time of the year.
Don't get me wrong. I am not Scrooge and I do love Christmas. I am a #Positiveireland Twitter gal, known for trying to spread good cheer ALL year round. But heck, the older I get the more I question the ever-lengthening build-up to the big day, and the pressure on us all to embrace goodwill for all men and to have a great time.
This year it feels that Christmas started in early November - and I feel like conceding Christmas defeat and hibernating until December 25. It is all too much.
I was wondering was it just me. But no, apparently. Last week a survey of people in 11 European countries, including Ireland, showed many do not experience the run-up to Christmas as a particularly jolly time, with people often feeling despondent and stressed.
The study, published in the 'Springer Journal of Applied Research in Quality of Life', revealed that Christmas is a time when people feel significantly less satisfied with their lives; and a time when more negative emotions are experienced compared with other times of the year.
Interestingly, the survey says for those who are very religious, Christmas is a time when people are more positive and content with life during the festive season.
Furthermore, people with higher levels of education or children at home also tend to take the holiday period more in their stride. What doesn't help the Christmas mood, I think, is the trend in recent years for retailers to encourage spending through some desperately dreary and sad TV ads - enough to drive people to despair.
The John Lewis ad, which has been shared millions of times on line, is a real tear jerker.
But the German supermarket Edeka has seriously assaulted emotions in that country with its Christmas product push. It has a TV ad which centres around an old man feeling so lonely he has to fake his own death just to see his family. Crushingly sad, I just don't see how it would make you want to grab everything off the shelves of your local Edeka. Apart from tissues.
I am not saying that people should not embrace the season and enjoy it. Of course we all should.
But we should also be mindful that the Season of Goodwill is not all joy but can be a very painful and sad time for many. Spare a thought for those who are not in the mood for jingle bells and Christmas cheer and give them the space they need.
People who have gone through break-ups with their partners; families that have been split all find themselves under added pressure to put on a happy face, even though emotionally and economically they may not be overwhelmed with the glad tidings.
The huge pressure to join in with all the jolliness can be oppressive.
Of course, everyone wants to put their best foot forward and smile, but it's no harm to remember those who may need a little understanding or support.
Allowing people to be where they are is sometimes a kindness in itself.
I love the Irish Hospice Foundation's Christmas 'Never Forgotten' appeal, where people can pay tribute online to a loved one who has died during the year. It is a virtual shrine, a space where loved ones can be remembered.
I was at two launches recently of events with an end-of-life theme attended by Taoiseach Enda Kenny. He spoke passionately and eloquently about grief and loss, and I was very taken with something he said.
"Grief smuggles itself into us - it visits at the most unexpected times. It could be a smell, something that is said, a song on the radio."
And this is never so true as it is at Christmas.
Let's bear that in mind.