“The Unspoken Side of Christmas”
7 minute read
What images come to mind when you think of Christmas?
Maybe you’re thinking about the jolly, bearded, and red-suited Santa preparing Rudolph and his gang of reindeer for the long night ahead.
Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house.
Maybe you’re thinking about the Coca Cola truck winding its way along the snowy roads with its bright and twinkling lights shining against the crisp white landscape.
Holidays are coming, the holidays are coming.
Or maybe you’re thinking about Elf, The Polar Express, The Snowman, or It’s a Wonderful Life.
Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.
Christmas is that time of year when we find ourselves surrounded by joy and when our homes are full of love and laughter.
Everywhere we look we see fun being had, gifts being given, and faces full of smiles. We witness displays of love, families coming together, and children playing with toys. There’s turkey being carved, wine being poured, and Christmas puddings set ablaze.
We hear crackers cracking, champagne popping, and wrapping paper ripping; and in the background there’s the ever-present Christmas Crooner music providing the soundtrack to this most joyous day of the year.
Christmas is a time for us to give love, and receive love; and there’s an abundance of hugs and kisses as we swap thoughtful gifts that display just how much we care about the people we’re giving them to. It’s a day that makes our hearts swell and reminds us of all that is good with the world.
Without doubt, Christmas really is that most magical time of the year…
…except for when it isn’t.
Now I realize that statement is a sudden about-turn, but stick with me here as I promise I’m not trying to piss on your Christmas parade. Even It’s a Wonderful Life has to become seriously dark before it finds its happy ending, so trust me when I say this needs seeing through to the end.
Because the truth is that there’s a very real and sometimes even painful side to Christmas that is too often ignored. And so what I really want to do in this short festive piece is to talk about the forgotten people of Christmas.
They’re the people whose Christmases won’t involve any of those magical moments that I opened this article with. They’re the people who will wake up alone and end the day alone. They’re the people for whom Christmas serves as a painful reminder of past traumatic experiences and loved ones that have been lost. And they’re the people that can feel lonelier at Christmas than they do at any other time of the year.
These may not be the people that came to mind when I asked you to think about Christmas, but trust me when I say that they’re very real and are far more common than you think.
While Christmas is a time of year in which the whole concept of love, happiness, and togetherness is amplified right the way up to 10, the reality for the forgotten people is that everything else is amplified all the way up to 10 for them too. This means that feelings of depression, emptiness, grief, and isolation become so much more consuming than they do at any other time of the year; because Christmas is like a tinsel wrapped magnifying glass that serves to intensify our emotional state, be that a positive or negative one.
We’ve all felt the pressure of Christmas before.
How many times have you had one of those ‘off years’ where you’ve just been struggling to get into the Christmas spirit? What about those times where money has been a little tight yet you’ve had to somehow get the funds together, even if it means going into debt? And how about those years where nothing really seemed to go to plan and you felt like you’d failed somehow?
It comes to all of us, yet every time this happens you can pretty much guarantee that you’ll put on the brave face and hide those emotions. The pressure to be happy and full of festive joy is something that we all succumb to, because woe betide the person that puts their hand up and admits to how they’re really feeling at this time of year.
Bah humbug indeed!
We can all battle our way through one bad Christmas in the hope that the next one will be a much better experience, but for some people, Christmas becomes an act each and every year.
We all want to fit in and to belong, but the pressure of Christmas cheer can make the forgotten people feel like they need to bend, mould, and become whatever is expected of them. In many ways, Christmas becomes an act of conformity, which ultimately can lead to feelings of shame.
Yes, that’s right…shame.
Whenever a person cannot speak their truth or express their feelings out of the fear of being rejected or humiliated for it, they’ll hide how they feel. But to hide how you feel will only ever lead to feelings of isolation, and as such, shame is born. For the forgotten people, Christmas can become a time of year that makes them feel ashamed for where they are in life.
Try telling people that you’re spending Christmas alone. Try telling people that you won’t be having a Christmas dinner this year. Try telling people that Christmas doesn’t make you happy. And try telling people that all you really want to do is get the whole thing out of the way.
Then take a look at their faces and you’ll see an expression that blends both pity and discomfort, and you’ll wish you’d never said anything at all.
This year I made a point of speaking to a number of people about Christmas and I found that a good percentage were genuinely upbeat and excited about the coming holidays. It was wonderful to hear and I was truly happy for them.
But what really surprised me was that the majority of people would start by giving me a vaguely positive response but which sounded like a generic and rehearsed answer. To some people I just gave a small-talk response, but to a number of others I decided not to say anything. Instead I just looked at them with a smile that encouraged them to continue talking.
“You know how it is.” They’d say.
“How about you tell me?” I’d encourage.
And then I’d hear a number of stories about family, grief, toxic situations, and financial worries. It may have taken a little digging to get there, but it was clear that they felt a great sense of relief from being able to speak openly about it.
Although most of these people were facing one-off situations that suggested they’d most likely have a better time next year, what it did make clear to me is that just about every single one of us has had enough personal experience to be able to develop empathy for anybody who is having a difficult time at Christmas.
At one time or another, we’ve all been there.
While the holidays may be characterized by all those warm and fuzzy moments that I mentioned earlier, let’s not ever forget the real meaning of Christmas.
The marketing we’re subjected to will have us believe that the degree to which we love somebody is measured by how much money we spend on them. But in reality, the true display of love and compassion comes from sharing the commodity that is most valuable to each and every one of us…
All too often we fall into the trap of believing that as long as we’re spending money then we’re doing the right thing, but what good is an expensive gift if it’s given out of obligation? Surely the most valuable gift we could give to anybody is to be there for them when they need us, to listen to them when they’re feeling unheard, and to help lift their spirits and leave them feeling like they matter.
Christmas is that time in which we give to those that are less fortunate than ourselves, but this is not just about money and the rich giving to the poor; it’s about giving our time to those whose personal circumstances are not as fortunate as our own.
Sometimes the people that need our help the most are the ones that hide it the best. Talk to people, listen to them; learn how to look for signs that they’re struggling, and listen for the cracks in the things that they say. And if you find that something is missing, try to give it to them.
Surely that’s what Christmas is all about?
So to everybody that is having a bad time of it this year, take heart in knowing that bad times don’t last forever and that it’s okay to not be okay. Make the best of your Christmas and know that next year will bring you a different experience altogether.
To all those that are feeling truly festive and are set to have a magical Christmas, enjoy every single moment of it and cherish the people that you’re sharing it with. And for those with children, enjoy the magic of watching their faces as they wake up to find the presents that Santa has left for them.
And finally, for all of those that find Christmas to be a struggle each and every year, please know that you are not alone and that there are far more people than you realize that feel exactly the same way that you do. The pressure of what is expected of you at Christmas is a man-made problem and is complete and utter bullshit. You do not have to feel the way you’re told to feel and Christmas can be whatever you want it to be.
There is no tick-list that determines whether or not your Christmas can be considered a success, because whatever it is that will make you happy is exactly what your Christmas should be.
Did this article resonate with you and do you know of anybody that could benefit from reading it? If so then please do feel free to share this article wherever you can.
Do you have any thoughts or opinions on anything you’ve just read? Do you have any experiences to draw upon, either good or bad, that others could learn from? What did you learn from your own experience? Do you have any thoughts about the pressures of Christmas? What is it that you believe is most important at this time of year? Do you have any advice to give to anybody that struggles during the festive period? Or do you have any questions of your own to ask that either myself or my readers can share an opinion on? Please feel free to leave a comment below and we’ll begin a conversation.
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Ho ho ho…some decidedly good points made in this blog! Christmas can be a very difficult time of year, that’s for sure. One thing I would like to add in terms of the concept of ‘being alone’ at Christmas: I personally LOVE being alone at Christmas. I have to fend off the social invitations with a baseball bat…I have lost count of the number of times I have said to someone over the past 2 weeks, “No…I’m sorry, I have plans on Christmas Eve…but thank you for the invite.” And what are my plans? Eating scrumptious food, watching movies, staring at the Christmas tree, drinking sherry, hanging out with my dog, going for a walk and seeing the Christmas lights. Same with Christmas morning – all my family & friends know that I will be drinking coffee & Bailey’s at the crack of dawn and eating far too much chocolate. I have to sober up by mid-day so I can come out of my beloved hibernation and eat turkey with other mortals. But then believe you me, on Boxing Day, I am right back on my couch eating chocolate, drinking boozy coffee & reading to my heart’s content. I used to be the busiest bee in town over Christmas. Not anymore…and I am happier than ever 🙂
Merry Christmas & all the very best in 2019!!
Thank you for commenting and I think you’ve raised a really important point there that I hope everybody gets the chance to read. What you’ve written there about being happy being by yourself on Christmas Day and enjoying all the things you have lined up is exactly what I was getting at when I made the comment near the end about Christmas being whatever makes you happy. I did toy with the idea of expanding on that but purposely left it like I did and decided to keep the focus on those that do struggle, but what you’ve written summarises the other side of this perfectly.
This year I’ll be spending Christmas Day with family and that’s how I like it to be, but it’s Christmas Eve now and I’ve spent the day alone wrapping presents, playing videogames, doing a bit of writing, kicking back with Netflix, and cooking up some Christmas fajitas (well, normal fajitas, but on Christmas Eve, hahah). I also plan on spending New Years Eve alone and I do that every year, but that’s exactly how I like it. Some people seem shocked at that and tell me that I really should be with people to see the new year in, but I genuinely don’t ever feel the desire for that and am in my element when I end the year and start the new year by myself, and it doesn’t feel like anything is missing.
Have a great Christmas Maryanne…it certainly sounds like you will, and what a day you have lined up! 🙂
Wishing a Merry Christmas to you all no matter how you decide to spend it and hope 2019 will be kind to us.
And a very Merry Christmas and a happy 2019 to you too! 🙂
Elliot, What a mega post! I do my best to appreciate all the different times and experiences in my life, including the times I’m alone. I believe there’s beauty and value in all experiences, if I look closely enough. Being alone on Christmas is difficult, but I’m going to be okay with it. The obvious advantage is that I’ll be able to watch The Muppet Christmas Carol by myself and not have to explain to naysayers why Rizzo The Rat is the most underrated Muppet of all time. 🙂
It will also allow me to planning my next trip to Florence in January. Will I miss my family? Absolutely. I’ll also miss watching the kids in my family open their presents, because there’s something about seeing children who still believe in the magic of Christmas. What I’m beginning to learn is that sometimes, it’s just not as necessary to hide it in garland and lights and pretend. Sometimes, we can be okay without all the glitter and instead with just feeling Christmas in our hearts and having hope that next Christmas won’t be as lonely. I honestly believe that the world would be in a better place if everyone just took a little extra time to appreciate the feelings of other people. A little bit of empathy goes a long way.
One of the first things we learn as little kids is to always say “thank you” ! We all love to read quality blogs. It’s a great way to learn something new, something useful; or to be entertained. You rock my socks off…always! People come into our life for a day, a week, a month, a season, perhaps a year or longer, always to teach us something. For all the little and big ways you’ve pitched in…thanks!!! I can’t possibly repay you.
I am wishing you a new year filled with happiness, peace, health, love, learning, healing, and wealth.
Wherever you are, whoever your with, I hope you’re having a great day, that happens to include A Muppets Christmas Carol! 😉
Hi Katy, and once again thank you for such a heartfelt comment.
Hahah, you’re a fan of the Muppet Christmas Carol too? I love that movie, and of course it’s got Michael Caine too which means it’s a winner, although I appreciate that technically he’s not a muppet. And you’re right, Rizzo the Rat is very underrated.
I agree with you completely and that’s exactly why I wrote about there being no checklist at Christmas, because sometimes it feels like unless you’ve done this and you’ve done that, then somehow you’ve not had an authentic Christmas. But I say that Christmas is about whatever you want it to be. Maybe not all the things on that ‘checklist’ would make everybody happy, so what’s the point in doing it? It’s like on New Years Eve when everybody crosses arms, holds hands, and then sings Auld Lang Syne. Now I have absolutely no idea why but I cannot stand doing the whole arms, hands, and Auld Lang Syne thing…I just won’t do it…something about it just makes me feel, miserable. Yet it’s the thing you’re ‘supposed’ to do on NYE. So I say make Christmas be whatever it needs to be so that you’re happy.
And bless you Katy, you always say such nice things and you’re always so supportive of the site. So I too would like to say a huge thank you in return also. You are well and truly a part of this site and I’m so glad you found it (almost three years ago now, can you believe that).
Have a very Muppet Christmas Katy.
Hi Elliot, I consider myself very lucky to have never ( as far as I can remember) been alone at Christmas and because of that I can’t imagine how I would feel if I ever had to face it alone. Christmas is always a stressful time, made all the more so because of media intrusion, TV adverts, shop gimics, buying the “right” presents, etc. over a 3-4 month period, before we even get to Christmas! But once Christmas finally arrives and I’m with my family (and all the shops are shut) it is usually a happy time, and I’m always glad I made the effort. But often I think about the people who are spending Christmas alone, especially those who have no choice. Without getting too political at this festive time we should, as a nation, be spending some of the billions we send abroad each year helping people who are alone (every day).
Hey, thank you so much for posting and you’ve certainly given some food for thought there. I think if we could all at least spend a little more time observing what’s happening around us and looking out for signs that people are struggling, then we have an opportunity to be able to help. Collectively we could make a huge difference through small individual efforts.