Counsellor's thoughts: Christmas
The festive season is a mixed bag. It can be easy to get carried away with the festivities, social engagements, parties and food. However, for many Christmas is a hard time, one filled with loneliness and unhappiness. In this article, I free associate my thoughts about the different experiences Christmas can bring.
Of course, Christmas is a major religious holiday in the Christian faith and despite the holiday now being commercialised and having no religious meaning for many, I think of the many people around the world for whom Christmas signifies the birth of Jesus. This makes me consider the opportunity for people to connect, or re-connect with their faith and identity. The carols we hear in supermarkets, the religious tableaus on the front of cards and nativity plays are all celebrations of faith for some people, and along with it hope, joy and celebration.
For others, Christmas provides one time of the year when they connect with relatives and friends. Families come together, there is the sharing of gifts, food, stories and laughter. As humans we long for connection, whether it is a simple hello by text nowadays, or a week spent with those we love. Christmas creates a joint sense of celebration as we end another year. This year has shown the importance of connection, with Covid-19 and the self-isolation periods the world has been in. The announcement by the British government in November 2020 that the country would have five days over the Christmas period to socialise with two other households brought a wave of relief over the country as people realised that connection over Christmas would be possible.
It is important however to remember that holidays such as Christmas and the New Year remind many people of their loneliness. For many, the idea of connection seems impossible and a distant dream. Christmas also often stirs up a reflective stance, both on the year just past, and on our lives in general. Many services close for Christmas and this can leave people feeling more isolated than ever. And for some, due to dynamics amongst family and friends, they may be surrounded by people throughout the festive period by feel lonely, and isolated within themselves.
I come back to identity in order to address the negative side of this. Christmas for some is a time of questioning their identity - the loneliness felt or the situation they find them self in can call into question who they are. I think of those who have recently been through a divorce, found themselves in prison, become homeless and consider the impact of contemplating how they have found them self in that place, potentially since last Christmas. I also think of those for whom Christmas can create feelings of inadequacy; the pressure to provide gifts and a meal for family when this may be out of budget. The pressure to celebrate, be cheerful and excited when actually a physical condition or poor mental health makes this feel like a charade.
What do I take away from this?
Firstly, I take away not to assume that Christmas is a positive time for everyone. In the same way I would never assume this for my clients, it is important not to assume this for colleagues and acquaintances. Opening that space for conversation with others - "what is Christmas like for you?" provides the opportunity for connection and support. If we approach the festive period with compassion for others, for me this hits right to the heart of what has always been the Christmas message.
Take a compassionate approach with your loved ones this Christmas, allow each other space to breathe and take time out, but also to connect with one another. The internet has opened so many doors for us to communicate by phone and video and it can make the world of difference. Take a step back and consider how we're all coping with what has been a hard year, and will be a Christmas like no other, and maybe give each other a do-over or the benefit of the doubt, just this once. That may be just the gift someone needs.