Welcome to this special Christmas edition of our featured therapist BlogSpot where Trainee Psychotherapist, Bruce Edhouse discusses how the Christmas’s we’ve had inform how we think and feel about our Christmas’s to come.
Ah, Christmas – it’s the most wonderful time of the year! That’s what we’re all going to be told an awful lot over the next few weeks. Now personally I love Christmas, but I do think it’s important to acknowledge that it can bring back memories and stir up emotions both good and bad. Every time a particular festive song plays, or whenever we can smell a uniquely Christmassy smell, or even each year when we get down the Christmas tree, a little part of us can be transported back to Christmas past… maybe to an idyllic time when everything was safe and warm, surrounded by family and friends, plenty of food and drink, wrapping paper strewn all over the place, and the promise of the Top of the Pops Christmas Special still to come.
So why would anyone feel bad about being taken back there? The thing is, despite what you may see in the movies and in the magazines, there’s no such thing as the perfect Christmas. Even for those of us who have plenty of warm and fuzzy memories of Christmas, there may have been the odd occasion in the past when you couldn’t afford to buy a loved one a present you knew they really wanted, and maybe felt a little ashamed when everyone else seemed able to get what they want without worrying about money. Or perhaps you remember forcing yourself to look pleased at a truly, truly terrible present you’d received – not wanting to appear ungrateful when you’re actually shocked at how little the person who bought it really knows you.
These feelings don’t really get talked about, and like any strong emotion that isn’t expressed, it can stay inside us and be pushed down into our unconscious memories. And at this time of year, the sights and sounds and smells of Christmas can be a trigger to bring those feelings back in some way. (Advertisers and shops are very good at taking us back – it suits them for us to be in a childlike state when we’re choosing what to buy, as we’re likely to be more impulsive and less likely to think about silly grown-up things such as self-restraint or debt!).
The reminders are all around us. If we think about Christmas songs, a lot of the nation’s favourite festive tunes are really rather sad stories. Of the most famous ones, the topic of broken relationships and being apart from loved ones crops up over and over again – I’m sure you won’t have to think too hard to come up with an example of one! The biggest-selling Christmas song of all time, White Christmas, isn’t about having a perfect Christmas here and now – it’s a simple wish for things to be just like they used to be. That’s a wish that speaks to us all from time to time.
And, although it’s an unpopular thing to point out at this time of year, that’s just not possible. Some of the people we’ve loved aren’t with us any more, and we can’t share this year with them as we’d like to. Even if we feel we’ve gone through the grieving process and moved on, it’s not surprising that we are reminded of them and feel their loss at this time of year more than any other.
So if you find yourself visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past in the form of a sudden or unexplained sadness, that’s okay. It’s probably a completely normal reaction to something you’ve seen or heard. And if your Christmas memories aren’t as happy as some of the ones I’ve described here, then not liking Christmas is even more natural. It doesn’t make you a Scrooge or a Grinch, as some people might have it – it’s just part of what makes you you.
If you’re looking forward to a noisy, riotous time with children running around full of excitement, then I wish that for you. If you’re after a relaxing Christmas shared with a few close friends and family, then I wish that for you. And if you just want it all to be over, then… well, the good news is that it will be in a few weeks! But until then, I wish you strength and resilience to get through it, but most importantly the knowledge that it’s not just you.
Happy Christmas, everyone!