Surviving the world's Christmas celebration

It's a widely accepted fact that not everyone enjoys Christmas. In fact, Christmas is one of the most depressing times of the year for many. A local television personality talked about various expectations and disappointments that many endure during the season. Psychologists and mental health professionals are well aware of the situation. According to a crisis employee at an area counseling center, work is always heavier during the yuletide season and even into January. You wonder how such a beautiful occasion could bring such misery.

Sometimes you can't figure out why you feel sad, out of sorts, exhausted, left out and lonely. After all, you're supposed to be happy. Stores are all decorated, beautifully, and colorful stunning lights are glistening all over town. Christmas music is everywhere, and your family will all be home. Visions of merriment, joy and festivities dance in your head. You will, for sure, try to put on a happy face. So what's the problem?

The problem is that you may have unrealistic expectations of what Christmas should bring. Maybe you're focusing on the wrong purpose of Christmas. The real reason for celebrating is to welcome Jesus into the world. One needs to remember, and conceive of the idea, that one "can" be happy without all the hoopla if one adopts the right mindset -- that you don't really need "anything" to celebrate. Praising and worshipping God and giving thanks for baby Jesus is the main criteria for observing Christmas, so slow down and stop trying to do so much.

You feel dejected and lonely if you compare yourself and/or your life's situation with that of other people. Try to turn your feelings outward, rather than inward and look at what you can do, or even say to others, to lift their spirits rather than look at yourself and what you're missing.

You're short on money or the means to buy gifts! To begin with, you don't have to keep up with what others do. If you feel badly because you can't give your family what you'd like, realize there's time after Christmas to still attain the gift. People do not "have" to have everything right at Christmas. Lastly, know that others love you for yourself.

You're unable to be with family and loved one on the holiday? That can be an unpleasant dilemma but you can deal with it. Recognize that there are others in your predicament. Plan your own observance knowing that the actual event is only one day, even though Christian calendars extend farther. The sun will still come up somewhere the next day and you will have survived what you thought would be a dismal day. You are still loved, special, intelligent and the same as before. Nothing has been taken from you because your expectations weren't met. Disregard the perfect family scenarios you see portrayed on TV and in the movies.

Most of all recognize that although it may seem so on the outside, no one's life is perfect. Most hide their pain. Once you conclude that you make your season what it is, you will cease trying to fit into the mold of what society dictates. I recently talked with a woman who was involved in the care of numerous family members who were ill. Naturally she perceived that she needed to help as much as possible. She was smiling. I asked, "How are you getting through this?" Her comment was, "I have to -- because everyone else is worried sick." Her thoughts were for others. That was her reason for not caving in. I suspect there are more than we can imagine who are indeed, "smiling on the outside and crying on the inside."

Regardless of how despondent you may become, remember that you are never truly alone. Keep in mind the words of Jesus. "I am with you always, until the end of age" and you'll remain in the right frame of mind for Christmas.

Ellen Shuck holds degrees in psychology, religious education and spiritual direction and provides spiritual direction to people at her office.