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Christmas Is Over. What a Relief!

The forced happiness of the winter holidays can be stressful for many.

Key points

  • Loneliness and loss are more painful during a festive season.
  • We may remember Christmas misfortunes because of the dissonance they create.
  • We would benefit from spreading goodwill the entire year and not just reserving it for a single day.
Photo by Daniel Reche from Pexels
Source: Photo by Daniel Reche from Pexels

It was Christmas Eve in the trenches along the Western Front in the First World War when both sides decided to stop shooting each other and sing carols and exchange little presents instead. I have always found it curious that this episode is celebrated as proof of the all-conquering spirit of Christmas, with its message of universal love and serene happiness. I personally find it more telling that shortly after this very brief truce, both sides returned to their normal warring duties and proceeded to shoot each other as usual, only minutes after they had sung “Silent Night” together in peaceful harmony.

There is a certain forced artificiality in the Christmas traditions that brings to mind this famous truce in the trenches. For 364 days of the year, we ignore each other, compete against each other, and on occasions even exploit or abuse each other, but come Christmas, we put all that unpleasantness aside and suddenly realize that we all love our neighbor. But only for 24 hours, mind you. After Christmas Day, the artillery fire starts again, like in the Western Front in 1914.

A painful contrast

Don’t get me wrong: I actually love Christmas and all its silly traditions. I like the songs, the films, the lights, and the presents, and yes, I also like the spirit of goodwill that many of us embrace during the season. But I don’t like the fact that this goodwill is time-limited and finite and not expected to extend even to New Year’s Eve.

More importantly, I don’t like the fact that Christmas comes with an enforced happiness mandate that too many struggle to feel at any time, and perhaps even more so during this festive period. Christmas can be stressful for reasons we all know: Difficult family relationships, separations that feel more painful when we are supposed to be together, and even financial strains at a time of big expenses, all can conspire to make the end of December feel very challenging.

Most problematic of all, however, is the stark contrast that is often found between expected Christmas happiness and the realities of life. I don’t know anybody who doesn’t have a sad story attached to this special day: “I lost my dad in a car accident five years ago; it was Christmas Day.” This is not to say that misfortunes are more likely to happen on the 25th of December, but rather that we remember misfortunes that happened around that day because of the horrible dissonance they create when mellow happiness is suddenly taken away, and tragedy takes its place.

Every day should be Christmas

Let’s try to be pleasant to each other and spread goodwill 365 days a year, or at least most of those days. At the same time, let’s not pretend happiness can be somehow forced into our minds on a particular date. This way, we will not build unrealistic expectations that the 25th of December will be unable to fulfill.