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Hating the Holidays? How to Turn Things Around

Written by Lane Gormley, EdS, LPC, NCC

So many people are sad during the winter holidays. There’s even a name for it – Holiday Depression. The period that lies between our preparation for Thanksgiving and the celebrations of Christmas, Hanukkah, and/or Kwanza can seem like Death Valley when the winter and rain of January set in. If you are a holiday enthusiast, you can skip this blog. It is for the rest of you.

The sources of Holiday Depression are numerous:

For one thing, just the fact that we are “supposed to be” happy during the holidays is counterproductive. If it is inappropriate for a person to tell you how to feel – and I believe that it is – isn’t it even more inappropriate for an entire society to tell you how to feel? Bah, humbug!!! I would like to feel however I naturally feel, in December and in May and all the rest of the year.

There is also another kind of “cheer” that may be exaggerated during the holidays. I am, of course, referring to alcohol. Some people who don’t like the holidays try to drink their way through them. This is probably not a great idea because you might end up not only depressed but feeling awfully queasy.

Ghosts of Christmas Past
Another reason for holiday depression is remembrance of past holidays. A yearly celebration like Christmas or a birthday is an anniversary that invites us to leave the present for a retrospective contemplation of holidays past. If you had happy holidays as a child, you may idealize them in retrospect and find nothing in the present that can measure up. If you had miserable holidays when you were young, you may imagine your life from then until now as a continuous Greek Tragedy. A cumulative inventory of holidays past may not be in your best interest during this season.

The best thing to do is talk yourself out of idealizing or dramatizing the past. Nothing was as perfect as we pretend; nothing was as tragic. The past, like the present, was a series of moments on a journey. It was, and is, your journey; and it is a sacred journey. Did your life not turn out as you planned? Learn to appreciate how it did turn out. What obstacles did you overcome? What have you learned? How much patience have you gained? Have you understood yet that happiness is an “inside job”? Are you a grown-up yet? Is it time to make plans for the rest of your journey?

Anniversaries also tempt us to compare the bright dreams of youth to the imperfect present. This, too, is a trap. I was voted Most Likely to Succeed… I could have been a professional golfer… I should have married Ed Smith… How did I end up here?

A child’s innumerable dreams are endless, changeable fantasies without precise goals. Adults know that the fulfillment of dreams involves setting goals, planning, and work. It is never too late to have dreams, but we must be concrete and realistic about them. Avoid looking at childhood dreams as though they were once concrete opportunities. They probably weren’t.

The commercialism of the holidays in the USA is another reason people feel sad and fatigued. It starts in October with thousands of merchants trying to sell you gifts that you are not actually sure that anyone wants. You are “supposed to” buy gifts for people just because the season demands it. The focus on money and deals and objects and finding the perfect gift for everyone and extended shopping hours takes us far from the meaning of the season which is supposed to be spiritual.

Just listening to the advertisements is exhausting, so don’t. Sidestep them. Put the TV on mute during commercial breaks. Make a simple gift list and stick to it. Some people limit gift-giving to children. Others might use the gift-giving season to thank the people who help us throughout the year: teachers, hairdressers, physical therapists, postmen, housekeepers, yoga teachers. Don’t let the sales force steal from you the true meanings of the season.

Does the idea of decorating the whole house make you feel tired already? Don’t do it. The festivals that occur in the fall leading up to the Winter Solstice all involve light and nature. On December 21, the hours of light in our hemisphere will start to increase. Hanukkah and Christmas are celebrations of physical and spiritual light. Think of the Three Wise Men following the light of a star to find the birthplace of a Child and a Faith. Hanukkah, which will start December 8, is the Festival of Lights during which Jewish people the world over celebrate the re-dedication of the Second Temple. Fill your houses with light, and talk about the principles of faith and community that guide you.

Kwanzaa is essentially a celebration of the physical harvest and the principles that ensure the continuation of the spiritual harvest. You might create a beautiful centerpiece for the table and decorate the mantelpiece – and leave it at that.

And Music
Some of the most beautiful music ever written was created for the holidays. Whether you like Madrigals, Handel’s Messiah, the Vienna Boys Choir, Itzhak Perlman as the violin soloist in Live in the Fiddler’s House, Bing Crosby, or Rihanna, listening to music can drown out the sound of commercial advertisements, interrupt sad thoughts, and lift your spirits.

Service to Others
One of the fastest ways to change a sad mood is to do something for others. Go to one of the numerous food kitchens that serve holiday dinners to the homeless, and volunteer. Help out at your church or at a community organization. It could change the way you feel about yourself. It could change the way you feel about others. It could change your associations, your ideas about what this season means.

Do Something Different
Above all, change your patterns. Think of something beautiful. Start new traditions. Make new friends. Drop the sadness that you carry around inside of you, past sadness waiting to be triggered and multiplied by negative thinking in the present. If you don’t know how to do that, come and see us. Let’s make these holidays a whole new ball game.

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