Christmas is one day only

christmas_bluesIt is easier said than done, but it is definitely possible to decide that Christmas really is one day only, merely a date on the calendar writes Mary Hogan  


“A ray of hope flickers in the sky/A tiny star lights up way up high…”

Christmas is a magical, fairytale, spiritual time for countless people, most especially for families with young children. Children’s excitement with their gifts, their absolute belief in Santa, their amazement at the tall, decorated, lighted tree and their reverence and awe visiting the baby Jesus and the nativity scene, somehow brings out the child in all of us.

We also share joyous Christmases with the wider family, whether in our original family home or with siblings and their families. The familiar aromas, exchanging of gifts, the shared love and pleasure at being together, are uniquely special at Christmas.

For those of us not so lucky, we have the power, if we choose, to make the generous decision to be genuinely pleased for those lucky, privileged individuals and pray that Christmas will fulfil all their dreams. Resenting and begrudging the joy that others experience solves nothing for those whose expectations are the direct opposite.

Many people, for a variety of reasons, express the perfectly understandable sentiment at Christmastime that they wish the day was ‘over with.’ They feel pressurised to be joyful and excited. Their reality is that jingle bells, sleigh bells, carol singing and the general buzz and razzmatazz can evoke unbearable feelings of grief, loss and, nowadays especially, economic despair.

For others, it can be a time of desperate loneliness, sadness, and isolation that is beyond words.

Ordinarily, our aim should be to achieve our maximum potential as individuals in everyday life. But Christmas bears no resemblance to the daily grind. A particularly exceptional season, the flavour cannot be re-captured at any other time. For those of us who are struggling in our own private way, we need to harness all the strength we possess to cope. Although putting other people’s happiness before our own sounds like a cliché, it is, undoubtedly, a sure-fire winner. Each of us needs to figure out how to transform that cliché into the best reality we can create.

Many people, for no definable reason, experience an underlying, inexplicable melancholy at Christmas. Or they may suffer from SAD –Seasonal Affective Disorder. Whilst not exactly depression, it is experienced as a lethargy, loss of energy and general despondency. Following our woeful, rain-filled summer, such sufferers are likely to be even more affected. They are extremely reluctant to admit to feeling low in themselves, particularly at Christmas, perhaps believing there is something shameful about it. The world has us convinced that we should be on top of our game, all of the time – an unachievable and biological impossibility. Some sensible animals hibernate in winter and maybe SAD is a throwback to when we all hibernated.

Contentment is a quality much under-valued in our zap-zap, high-pressured world…

Openly expressing negative feelings, at any time of the year, brings unexpected bonuses. Honest, candid expression of such feelings, as distinct from constant moaning and griping, has the immediate effect of deflating them. This forthright verbalisation is referred to as ‘naming, shaming and taming.’ The added bonus is that, by freely admitting to such feelings, we will find that others often immediately agree that they, too, experience similar emotions.

It is easier said than done, but it is definitely possible to decide that Christmas really is one day only – merely a date on the calendar. The bereaved, the old, the lonely, those who have suffered relationship breakdown – all our broken people – need to summon all their reserves of mental strength to convince themselves of this so as not to simply disappear under the duvet. Help is available for the unemployed and their families. Do not be ashamed to ask for it.

It is frequently asserted by psychologists that adult siblings, when visiting the family home – and Christmas is a perfect example – immediately revert to the original role they played within their family, despite having moved on, whether remaining single or with families of their own. The examples given – not necessarily accurate or true – is that the eldest again becomes the boss, the youngest acts like the baby, the middle child feels marginalised, and the fixer still endeavours to fix anyone and everything.

Broken Christmas Toy.We may relate to that description of family gatherings or not – I don’t. What I do absolutely know, is that family get-togethers can evoke long-forgotten, childish memories. A certain tone of voice, a particular frown or glance, a half-joking, whole-in-earnest remark…any number of casual, unintentional mannerisms or statements, can suddenly catapult us right back, to right then. Back to times when we, as children, experienced feelings of mortification, anger, shame, helplessness…a whole array of emotions. Correct breathing at such times can instantly and very simply deflect the potential volcanic eruptions thus triggered at family reunions. Breathe deeply through the nose to the count of seven, allowing the abdomen to swell, pause, and exhale slowly and completely to the count of eleven, several times. This really does have an instant, calming effect – not just at Christmas but at any stressful time and at every opportunity.

Happiness is never an on-going state. The purest joy and the height of happiness are experienced only in special, unforgettable moments. “Contentment is Wealth” is the name of a traditional Irish tune. Contentment is a quality much under-valued in our zap-zap, high-pressured world, where the house we live in, the car we drive, the external trappings of wealth and status were so highly prized for much too long. So perhaps, now that we are relieved of the constant striving and chasing, we may achieve a measure of contentment and quit wishing for the moon.

Correct breathing can instantly deflect the potential volcanic eruptions triggered at family reunions…

We can choose to bloom wherever we are planted. Succeeding in making our individual patch the best it can possibly be encourages us to dare hope for a knock-on effect. If we are determined to develop the ability to cope, unimaginably tough times will strengthen us so that we acquire an inner core of steel that we never suspected ourselves capable of having .

Connecting with nature, not too surprisingly, tops the list of elements that contribute to personal happiness. So, although maybe we cannot afford at Christmas to buy everything our children expect, we can spend valuable time with them and take joy in simple pleasures, such as discovering ‘where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.’

And while it is seldom mentioned in ordinary conversation, the central message of Christmas is that an innocent little baby was born, to teach us how to love.

For full and in-depth coverage, see the current printed edition of Garda Review.

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