Friday, December 22, 2000

Christmas is depressing

Christmas is depressing. So the experts tell us.

Psychologists have long been familiar with a phenomena they call 'Holiday Blues' (HB). Characterised by a sad, melancholy and anxious mood connected with the holiday season, such a state is seen as pathological and inappropriate because of its mood-incongruent features1 . Some reports claim attempted suicide increased during and after Christmas. The heart of HB is captured by this statement :

"People are supposed to be happy and glad during the holidays - since I am not, there is something wrong with me that must be fixed or made to disappear."

The etiology of Holiday Blues is multi-factorial2, 3. If you're feeling down when the guy next to you is straining 'Fa la la la la!' in high-pitched tones, the contrast is depressing. Also, the year end is a time of self-evaluation and remembering past failures - 'I didn't do so good this year, what's there to celebrate?'. If we're separated from family and loved ones, the loneliness and isolation becomes intensified. And there is pressure to appear sociable and happy at parties, gatherings, and even church services. Wrap that all up with fatigue and stress and you have a sure formula for a crash, burnout and depression.

That's the scene today - artificial merriment making things worse for a person who has real problems of life to cope with.

Ah.. but that's the world! You say. Surely Christians are not susceptible to this phenomena! We have the true meaning of Christmas! Well, to investigate how Christians feel, I asked some old friends about their experience in past Christmases. Take note of the irony in what they say.

"There is so much work, so little time to reflect!"

"I remember how (as a student) I used to feel so empty on Christmas day because that's the time everything is over."

"All the activities! And nobody focuses on the beauty of Christmas itself."

It's a tragedy, I say. Caroling hungrily from street to street. Endless rehearsals to get that note or step just right for the choir and dance. Massive mind-boggling preparations for the Christmas mega concert. All resulting in us having no time and no energy, to focus on the wrong thing anyway. In our efforts to tell the joyous message, we are spending ourselves so completely that we have nothing left with which to savor the hope and reason for Christmas ourselves.

Brothers, let's make this Christmas different. As a recurrent victim of Holiday Blues over many years of Christmas cantatas and campaigns, I plead with you. We need to. And we can. If you are racing towards the end of the year, laden with the burdens of the world, only to cry 'It is finished!' and collapse in a heap, remember this : Jesus already did that for you 2000 years ago. You don't have to repeat his act!

Receive Hope

Face it - it's been a year of win some, lose some. A fair share of accomplishments and failures. Maybe more failures than accomplishments. So what? God knows that, and loves you no less. Taking stock of the year can be discouraging. Hey, it's okay to be sad for a while - even in Christmas. But let your reflection lead you to thanksgiving, repentance and a renewed trust in God for the next chapter. God's compassion in making that journey from Heaven to emerge between the splayed legs of a teenage Mary in a smelly barn - should - a) bring me comfort (that He is with us and understands us) and b) renew my love for others (the same way God loves them).

Nourish yourself

Make time to be with good friends and loved ones. Lots of it. And preferably with good food. Be yourself and let others be themselves too. Revel in the relationships. Talk about life, laugh, and reaffirm that you are there for each other. Pick up the phone and reach the faraway. Ties to be renewed are more important than tasks to be finished. After all, the gift of loving relationships is what 'peace and goodwill to men' is all about.

Worship in rest

Above all, let our hearts be led into worship after copious doses of rest. You deserve it. Bolt the door. Snooze for as long as you like with the alarm clock off. And when you awake, in silence remember Jesus. It's just between you and Him. Offer your own version of frankincense, myrrh and gold in your own quiet way of worship. When we lift our eyes off of the world and ourselves, to set it high upon God above, we will surely find the reason beyond our little lives,.. for the season and beyond


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