Christmas is this month and it is one of the two most important Christian holidays of the year.
It is also a celebrated holiday for those who do not profess to be Christians or who have fallen away from their faith, etc.
As Christians, we proclaim, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” We sing, “Joy to the World, The Lord has come.” My church choir and many others sing Handel’s Messiah with repetitions of “For unto us a child is born” and “King of Kings and “Lord of Lords”.
Christmas is a time for families and family gatherings, for celebrating the birth of our Savior. There are Christmas masses and Candlelight Services. But is this everyone’s reality? For many of us, it is, especially for those who read this magazine. For others it is not.
Unfortunately, it is often not what I hear in my office. As I write this in the middle of November, I must be prepared to hear, “I hate Christmas.” I don’t believe they truly hate the holiday or its meaning, but for many, it is a time of sadness.
Christmas for them is not what it has been in the past or what they wish the holiday was. As the decades have passed, there have been more broken marriages and distant families. In some families there is sadness because an important person is missing; a beloved family member has died in the last year or two, and things just don’t feel the same.
I have experienced this especially painfully twice in the past, both for myself and the rest of my family. It doesn’t mean that we have forgotten the true meaning of Christmas, but the joy of sharing it with others is somehow diminished.
We, as therapists, often see members of blended families where Christmas is celebrated twice, one day or weekend before the holiday with one spouse’s family and the next day or weekend after with the other spouse’s family. This doesn’t always translate into two joyful celebrations. In other cases, we see younger singles who get a child or children on alternating years or Christmas morning one year and Christmas afternoon or evening on alternating years.
These are times we must understand and treat clients much as we deal with grieving clients (or friends). We must listen, hear, and understand the sadness without reminding the client of what ‘the reason for the season” is supposed to be.
There are other things that have infringed on maintaining “Christ in Christmas.” There are those who tell us that it is prejudicial or “politically incorrect’ to say Merry Christmas. We must instead say Happy Holidays. It seems like Christmas has been politicized or overly commercialized. Whether it is true or not, many blame it on the beginning and steadily increasing use of advertising.
The first use of radio advertising began in 1923 and, not long after, the marketing of Christmas. Now we see Christmas decorations displayed in stores shortly after Halloween. I know that I will see at least one newspaper story about “Christmas Blues”, and radio stations will play Elvis’ recording of “I’ll have a blue Christmas without you.”
Last year, and perhaps this year to a lesser extent, we have faced a deadly virus. We have struggled through deaths of friends or family and isolation; depression has been almost an epidemic. For our medical providers, it has been exhausting and anxiety ridden. Family gatherings for Christmas were discouraged last year, and some families that have gathered despite the warnings have been struck with sickness afterwards.
Church services were discouraged, and many churches closed their doors. Streamed services and Zoom Sunday school meetings were a substitute for the message, but not for the fellowship that is so important. We still have not returned to normal.
What are we to do? We listen and talk about shared hard times. We help clients find ways to reconnect. We lean on our faith and look to the Cross. As therapists, we join our clients wherever they are and validate their feelings.
As a good friend, you would do well to use the same approach. You listen actively, which sometimes means even saying back what you understand about how they feel, maintain your connection, and validate their feelings.
As a friend, you have latitude not available to a therapist. Based on your knowledge of your friend and your judgment, you may offer to include them in your holiday plans or ask them to share Christmas dinner.
Dr. D. Kim Hamblin is a licensed clinical psychologist in the state of Alabama. He received a B.A. in Psychology from Mississippi State University and a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Texas at Austin. He maintains a fulltime private practice which specializes in adult individual therapy. Special interests include depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorders and ADD/ADHD.