Author (Greek version): Christina Vaizidou
Psychiatrist – Psychotherapist
Translator: Evi Diamantopoulou
Editor: Harriet Spala
The Christmas holidays. Christmas tree baubles and all sort of decorations wait patiently for a whole year in the attic to fulfill their purpose to brighten our houses and our lives. They are waiting for us to make up our mind, take the ladder and bring down the damp box that smells holidays. Your friends are waiting for you to make the decision to celebrate like you used to, stir up the memories, to rekindle your desires and hopes which up to now had been buried the whole previous year within a chest full of scents and music.
‘’Christmas holidays… without them, time does not begin”. This is how you enter a different mood. The streets and houses are brightly decorated and you expect these decoration lights to brighten your life, whether it is an exciting life and light them like spotlights or monotonous and these lights may add a passing glamour. It is because of that unusual childhood feeling where we secretly hope that something magic may occur.
I would like to refrain from mentioning the holiday melancholy. It doesn’t always occur. Holidays come together under a different sentiment for each of us, and this sentiment changes year by year. For me, Christmas holidays taste and smell of cinnamon, rock ‘n roll music and memories of warm hugs, smiles, love, sometimes melancholy and a touch of angels in the snow. Either way, they bring expectations. Expectations bring inevitable motions, decisions and feelings.
Holiday periods are always accompanied by a mental construct, like a chest each possesses regarding the way they wish to spend them. The image we have is defined by our character, the family values we copy or the ones we want to oppose, our experiences and memories. This is how an expectation occurs, a desire that brings along with it hopes. The inner voices which we try to silence each year, since our childhood, define our needs, for these days of celebration. Whenever circumstances create prosperity to fulfill desires, holidays then look like an American movie and Santa Claus will even find ginger bread under the tree. Whenever circumstances change, when friends depart, when love is lost, when family seeks something different, then hopes collapse and round the corner lurks disappointment, frustration and melancholy, the expression ‘’Christmas holidays… and everything goes wrong’’ and consequently often followed by solitude and the feeling of loneliness.
We continue. We are happy and wait for Rudolf and Blitzen (“where is Blitzen baby?”) or with a dragging mood, no matter what, we continue. We cook gingerbreads, decorate the Christmas tree, watch Christmas movies and possibly we might say that this year we ‘’must’’ have a good time during holidays. Α compulsion dressed with a coat of anxiety. We fill our schedules, we seek to buy all sorts of presents and we expect to receive presents. Expectations once again! These are great expectations and dangerous ones. This year we wish to have everything perfect, everything different, everything as it used to be. Whatever the case, we want anything!
We meet up with friends and family. We place there our hopes for intimacy and fun. We try to replenish lost time. We have been consumed by our daily routine and now we sit around the Christmas dinner or out at a bar or club for social interaction. Sometimes we manage and things are like they used to, we meet, hug each other and smile. Sometimes we are stressed by a lost connection or we ask ourselves “how did we change like that?”
A 1980’s research study on school students in Chicago related to holiday feelings, showed three feelings that came up more frequently being loneliness, stress and a feeling of helplessness. The research outcome was that the factor most connected to holiday melancholy was the myth that prevails during Christmas were everyone has a great time within a close family environment, the stress created from it and the denial of these socially imposed expectations (Peretti PO. Holiday depression in young adults. Psychologia. 1980; 23:251-255). Similar conclusions were drawn from the 1999 Canadian research study, depicting as more common stress factors during the holidays: loneliness (40%) and absense of family (38%) (Velamοor VR, Voruganti LP, Nadkarni NK., Feelings about Christmas, as reported by psychiatric emergency patients, Soc Beh Pers. 199;27:303-308).
Τhis way, once we have eaten the turkey, heard the Christmas carols and danced on Christmas songs, we make our way to New Year’s Eve. Fireworks, gifts patiently waiting under the Christmas tree with childhood excitement and a desperate need for surprise, unfold. Then follow hugs, kisses, wishing a Happy New Year, wishing for changes and wanting to fulfill of our craziest desires.
So! New Year’s Eve! We review the year that has passed and will never return. We play a couple of keys on the piano while we wonder, why “celebrate”? Time has passed and won’t return and this fact automatically makes many to review the past year, not the guy that creates social media moments for us but our own review of our personal moments and reflection. Studies have also shown an increasing tendency of self-injury in specific population groups during New Year’s Eve (Helen Bergen, Keith Hawton 2007). Obviously the review results are not always pleasant.
So, ‘’I celebrate in order to finally change…’’. I write New Year resolutions, plans, take radical decisions and create aims. The idea of New Year resolutions is not new. Since ancient Babylon there has been a ritual of promises regarding debts that had to be covered and current liabilities that had to be fulfilled within the next year. In ancient Rome similar promises were given to the God Jonas. In order not to break the tradition, we stand in front the dazzling Christmas tree, close our eyes and make resolutions. We make resolutions only to abandon them a few days later. According to the Statistic Brain Research Institute only 9.2% of Americans that made similar resolutions succeeded (Statistic Brain, 2017). Most resolutions are about weight loss and eating habits (21.4%), personal improvement or life conditions in general (12.3 %) and finance improvements (8.5%), (Statistic Brain, 2017).
We usually set goals, almost condemned to fail and face our bad habits up to this point in time. Stressed by the anxiety of our annual review, time limitation and the thrilling energy of the New Year that comes clear without any mistakes, we fail to plan. We create a list and exaggerate. Nevertheless there are some “tips” that could increase the possibility of reaching the goals we set. We must be realistic. We ought to think why we set each aim or goal and whether this aim or goal corresponds to our needs. It is very helpful to describe our goals clearly and accomplish them within the specific time frame we set. It is also helpful to share these resolutions with people who will keep reminding us of these resolutions, especially the ones we created in silence.
Finally, the most important reminder: when you enter ‘’The Christmas Nightmare’’ act like Jack Skellinghton. Don’t just dream, but look out for the new and exciting. Live ‘’The Nightmare’’. Do not regret everything, no matter how catastrophic. ‘’So, many years later I thought I’d drop in and there was old Jack still looking quite thin. And I asked old Jack, ‘’Do you remember the night when the sky was so dark and the moon shone so bright? When a million small children pretending to sleep nearly didn’t have at all, so to speak? And would, if you could, turn that mighty clock back to that long, fateful night. Now think carefully Jack. Would you do the whole thing all over again knowing what you know now, knowing what you knew then?’’. And Jack, respecting his self, his memories and his mistakes answered in a Christmas spirit ‘’Wouldn’t you?’’
Μerry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Bergen, H. & Hawton, K., Variation in deliberate self-harm around Christmas and New Year, Social Science & Medicine, Volume 65, Issue 5, September 2007, Pages 855-867.
Burton, Tim, the Nightmare before Christmas, 1993.
Sansone, R.A., MD, Sansone, L.A., MD, the Christmas Effect on Psychotherapy, Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience, December 2011.
Lerher, J., How to decide, Mariner Books, 2010, ISBN-10: 0547247990.