I have always enjoyed Christmas but as it approached each year I rarely found a patient who agreed with me. One after another they would grimace when asked how they felt about it.This led me to wondering why so many people appear to dread the prospect each year. I concluded that there are possibly three main reasons for this:
1. Negative Association - Bad Memories
These people have a negative association with this time of year. Something unpleasant has happened at Christmas in the past. As I have described in the context of the survival instinct, we are programmed to remember anything associated with any degree of negative emotion, be it pain, sadness, or fear etc. So for anyone who has experienced a particular loss, or disaster, or disappointment at this time of the year, their survival instinct will have made the link to the trappings of Christmas and will start giving negative reminders as soon as it realises the time is getting near.
Very often these negative associations relate to a lack of money at some stage in life or a fear of this.
When the unfortunate person gets the reminder they start recalling all over again the awful thing that happened, feel negative a bit more, as their arousal system reacts, and so ensure that the same reminders will keep coming year after year.
2. Unrealistic Expectations
The second group of those who dread the festive season are those who have been disillusioned by Christmas past.
They have fallen prey to romanticised Christmas films where families get together and everyone is deliriously happy. Films where dreams come true and everyone lives happily ever after.
They may even have experienced one such 'special' Christmas earlier in their lives and are still awaiting it's return.
3. Those who allow themselves to be coerced against their will
They dread the festive season because they will have to participate in social events they hate because don't have the guts to say as much. So they go through with it all with large dollops of resistance and resentment.
Often they go along with it because it's easier than getting nagged. If so, just accept it and go with the flow. It's the resentment about what you appear to have agreed to do that damages you, not the doing.
Christmas is just a time of year. Nobody has to participate in any of it if they choose not to. It will probably never be perfect if you have expectations of it. But if you accept it as being whatever it is you will never be disappointed. Focus on the good bits rather than the bad.
If there were parts of your Christmases past which are best not remembered, then don't. Choose now to recall just the good bits.
If this festive season is important to you maybe you need to take a moment and consider your Christmas values - what do you want from it that is possible? Keep those values in mind when you plan next year. Always remember that we each only have the real power to influence ourselves and the way we think and feel. We have to accept everyone else as they are so there's no point wishing others would behave differently.
If you have any personal insights about the festive season just ended - maybe examples of times when you realised you were resisting and how accepting helped - please share them via the comments section at the bottom of the page (coming soon). Also share any comments as to what is positive about this season of the year.
When time stands still
For me, the week between Christmas and New Year is the one that feels special. It feels as if time stands still. Many people are not at work, having taken time off. If you do work you find you are unable to get in touch with various people because they're not working. Many businesses close down.
I realise that for those who work in retailing and have sales to contend with, this is a very busy time. But for the rest of us, those of us who aren't battling through sales, it can be a time when there are no expectations, nothing we must do, no specific demands on us, no requirements to play happy families or cook stupendous meals… Those special days as the old year ends and before the new one starts are a time to gather our thoughts, to re-focus, to revisit our real values and create intentions for a fresh new year.
In ths special space next year, take some time for yourself and reflect on what you did well that year. Focus on those things you would like to move towards in the coming year, develop your vision for you.
If you don't put you first, nobody else will.
Until we are each able to live up to our own potential, whatever it may be, we are falling short of our life's purpose. Unless we each follow our hearts and release our own potential, nobody else will do it for us. This doesn't mean becoming a great singer, or chef, or artist or anything in particular. It simply means becoming the best version of YOU of which you are capable at this moment in time.