Merry or Melancholy? Does the holiday spirit vanish with childhood?

Worried African American woman thinking of something while spending Christmas alone at home.

“The holidays can usher in an emotional tug of war-between happy childhood memories and not-so-happy adult tensions. For many, the disconnect between how the holidays felt then and how they feel now can lead to cynicism and even depression. Perhaps when you were a child, your family’s festive celebrations, special meals and treats, and brightly wrapped packages made you believe in the magic of the season. But now those recollections may only make the upcoming holidays seem like a fraud, as phony as leaving cookies and milk for Santa. The preparations and festivities continue, but the feeling is gone.

When we compare our childlike excitement to our current end-of-the-year stress, it’s no wonder we often wind up with the blues. Even if we’d like to recapture the December thrill we once felt, how is that possible with so many pressures? This year in particular, many have lost their jobs or their homes, struggle to pay bills, or wonder how they’ll afford to buy holiday gifts. Some families are anxious about loved ones who are putting their lives on the line in Iraq and Afghanistan. And all of us have personal concerns that can interfere with our enjoyment of the holidays.

Experiencing the delight we once felt as children doesn’t come as easily when we’re worried about relatives in the military, financial woes, or a troubled relationship. But that doesn’t mean we have to consign ourselves to a go-through-the-motions holiday season. The holidays are whatever we choose to make them. We can be miserable, or we can consciously create a new type of celebration. We may not feel like we once did upon discovering our first gift-filled stocking, but we can still strive to feel the love that this season celebrates.

I believe that it is in our power to feel connected to the season in a meaningful way-if we allow ourselves to approach the holidays a little differently. You might reach out to someone you find interesting and make time to get together; take a walk at night with a child who will thrill to the Christmas lights; or get up the nerve to join a sing-a-long in your community. You could also spend some quality time alone doing something that brings you joy-painting, baking, dancing, or watching your all time favorite movie. Or how about sharing your time with those who are in a hospital or a homeless shelter?

A few years ago I had the best Christmas I’d ever had when I went to visit a fourteen-year-old cancer patient at the Children’s Hospital. I thought it would be depressing, but it turned out to be quite the opposite. Not only was I received with gratitude and a radiant smile, I also got the chance to appreciate how important it is to share our love while we still can.

While we may not feel the same joyful anticipation of a six-year-old waiting for Santa, we can make the conscious choice to feel the love within us-somehow, some way.”


Published in Psychology Today by

Ana Nogales, Ph.D.

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