This is the first year that both of my sons are interstate for Christmas. I guess I should get used to them not being with me for Christmas, for as they get older their Christmases will be divided amongst partners’ families and other commitments. Christmas will be a little solemn for me this year. I even contemplated whether or not to put up the Christmas tree. Fortunately, my son surprised me by putting it up while I was a work.
I am amazed at how many people have told me this year that they hate Christmas. Why? Is our lack of merriment a reflection of our dysfunctional community? So many people are lonely, alone or dealing with exacerbated financial problems at this time of year. Christmas and New Years is often a time of reflection and we don’t always like what we see in the mirror. Marriage breakdown issues are exaggerated during this period as arguments may erupt over where children spend Christmas. Disunity in families comes to the forefront.
Even younger people are expressing heightened stress during the festive season. According to a survey by the National Youth Mental Health Foundation- Headspace:
• Only half of young people would be disappointed if Christmas got cancelled, while one in five would actually be relieved;
• One third said Christmas made them feel worse than usual, while one third said it made them feel better, and one third said it made them feel about the same;
• People aged 18 to 25 were more likely to have a negative view of Christmas, with 40 per cent saying it decreased their happiness. Around 20 per cent of under 18s had the same view;
• 58 per cent of young people cited ‘Tensions Between Family Members’ as a key reason for feeling negative about Christmas, while 52 per cent cited financial pressures;
• Almost one in three young people said Christmas made them feel either worried, irritated or lonely;
• 27 per cent said Christmas made them feel depressed; and,
• More than a quarter of the young adults surveyed said alcohol or drug consumption affected their well-being more than usual over the holiday period.
This is a very sad state of affairs. The organisation also reported an increase in the number of young people contacting Kids Helpline over Christmas. Charity groups have experienced an increase in demand for help this year but also a decline in those giving, with many being financially strapped.
Christmas has become such a materialistic event; there is little acknowledgement that it is supposed to be a celebration of Jesus’ birthday. The emphasis is on Santa, and when the myth is exposed all the magic of Christmas seems to disappear. I always felt guilty about perpetuating the Santa lie to my children as honesty is important to me. But at the same time it would have felt as though I was denying them some of the magic of Christmas and being a party pooper if I did not go along with the façade. I told them about Saint Nicholas to ease my guilt. Nevertheless, I prolonged the myth as long as I could as I knew some of the magic and fun of Christmas would disappear once they knew the reality and it would all be about what are you buying me and why are you not spending more on me. It was also a great disciplining tool – be good, otherwise Santa won’t come.
When I was growing up I was taught that religion and Christmas were about love. As an adult I view religion as synonymous with hatred, division, repression, bullying, bigotry, sexism, discrimination, war, violence, child abuse and paedophilia. So the religious message is no longer strong for me and a visit to the Church is not on the agenda. I am sure many people feel the same. Surely this is a crisis for all Christian organizations with so many lost sheep.
Years ago, television stations used to air choirs singing carols at intermission and scenes of the manger were common. Not any more: Christmas is no longer about rejoicing, carols and the nativity scene. Instead they run stories about how to cope with spending time with your family and what’s the best present to buy.
In the Western world the meaning of Christmas is shopping. The media constantly quotes Christmas sales figures, emphasizing the need to buy, buy, buy to help retailers over this difficult economic period. Trading hours are extended, putting increased pressure on small business owners. Extended trading hours are of benefit to Shopping Centre Management as the income of the centre increases due to the fact that many shop leases have clauses stating that tenants have to pay more as their total (not net) sales figures increase. The benefit to small business owners and their employees is minimal. Then of course there are the Boxing Day sales. What retail worker has time to enjoy Christmas! Customers beware of the post-Christmas credit card debt blues.
Has our idea of Christmas become skewed? Have we lost the plot? How do we put the magic back into Christmas? I always feel happy when someone has made a gift rather than bought it. It comes with the added gift of time, care, thought and love. So many of us are time-poor though, so it’s hard to find the time to be creative. Party games are also helpful on Christmas Day, adding a little fun and relieving the lack or awkwardness of conversation. I guess we all have to find our own meaning of Christmas or try not to focus on ourselves but on others.
So what is Christmas? If it is the time for giving then what should we be giving – money, material possessions, time, love, friendship or charity? If it is a time for celebrating the birth of Christ should we question the path that religious doctrine is taking us on? What I do know is that next year I’ll be asking myself the same questions and I, like many others, will still be searching for the magic.
“LITTLE SAINT NICK” by Zellaby. Creative Commons – Some rights reserved