Christmas, solstice and the darkness within
December 21, 2011 1 Comment
It’s generally known that Christmas is a stressful time of the year and that depression rates increase over the holidays. This isn’t surprising given the pressures of entertaining, attending parties, and financial strain. Add to that painful memories, loneliness, and idyllic and unrealistic expectations set by movies and TV, and the pain can be unbearable for some.
On a certain level, I think people understand that Christmas can be difficult for many, but it can become easy to get caught up in the hustle-and-bustle and forget that some of the ones who find Christmas painful are amongst our own friends and family. I know for myself, it wasn’t until I experienced the pain of losing friends over the holidays that I fully understood how deep and widespread the pain of the Christmas season can be. This pain is magnified by displays, movies and advertisements showing happy, perfect families in a beautiful house, around a beautiful tree, opening beautiful Christmas presents while a drinking hot cocoa by a roaring fireplace. How many people will “celebrate” Christmas alone? How many families have no tree and no presents? How many families will have little on the table? How many will spend Christmas in a shelter or on the street?
It’s no coincidence that Christmas (or other religious festivals in the northern hemisphere, for that matter) is celebrated at the same time as Winter Solstice. In the Christian tradition, humankind’s salvation arrived at the time of year when things literally could not get any darker. (Of course, the actual birth of Jesus of Nazareth, if you believe in it at all, wasn’t actually in December, but it’s the symbolism I’m discussing here, not the history.) Hanukkah, though celebrating a historical event, fits in with the solstice because it celebrates a light that lasted far longer than it should have. The ancient Egyptian celebrated the rebirth of the sun at this time. The list goes on.
Surely, with the universal theme of hope during the holidays, people must be able to look past their current suffering to a brighter tomorrow, right? No. As anyone who’s experienced depression or known someone who’s experienced depression knows, the pervasive air of joy and hopefulness can have the opposite effect and only reinforce the fact that someone is suffering and is having such a hard time being hopeful and joyful. For many, the darkness of the solstice only reminds them of the darkness they feel within themselves; for many, the light that the world is celebrating seems to be everywhere except for their own hearts.
This isn’t a call to be woeful. We should celebrate with family and friends, for that’s part of what this time of year is all about. However, it doesn’t hurt to be mindful that others don’t have it so good. Often times, being patient and civil while at the checkout line at Wal-Mart and saying, “Thank you. Merry Christmas,” is more than what most other people would do. For the more enterprising, there are several opportunities to do what you can–soup kitchens always need volunteers this time of the year, and you can always trim the gift budget back a bit in order to donate to a charity. One cause that fits the theme of this post is the Edmonton Distress Line’s “Gift of Peace”. A donation of $50 covers the cost of a phone call to the line, and a gift of $100 covers the cost of a one-on-one counseling session. To put it in real terms, a potentially life-saving phone call for someone who has no one else in their life to turn to costs less than the average video game and a counseling session still costs less than the average smartphone.
If nothing else, let’s be thankful for what we do have and for how good we have it. For me and for most of you reading my blog, our worst day is still better than another person’s best day. Admittedly, that’s a thought that makes me uncomfortable, and I’m just as guilty as the next person for occasionally forgetting that.
Above all, let’s resolve that, as we embrace the Spirit of Christmas of peace and goodwill to all humankind, that we should continue to live that spirit the other 364 days of the year. Humankind deserves no less.