Blue Holidays: A Season for Emotion

The holidays are coming. Supermarkets are stocking up on turkeys and hams. Towers of candy wrapped in silver and gold are springing up in stores. Evergreens will soon scent the air with pine, and bell-ringing Salvation Army Santa Clauses will pierce our ears with reminders to be generous and give to the poor. Sights, sounds and smells can trigger happy memories – along with sadness and anxiety. I asked friends if they could describe some of these emotions. A sense of loss was number one – loss of family members, good friends, traditions, and “place” for those who live far from home. Some described certain people who were beacons for celebrating and enjoying a holiday; people who were the life of the party. (I remember my younger brother’s enthusiasm for decorating the house and the Christmas tree – even though we used to argue about it!) One friend described her husband (now deceased) as loving Christmas so much that the tree kept getting bigger every year and they finally had to buy a bigger house. Since he died, it’s been difficult for her to get into the Christmas spirit. A young mother said that, since her husband’s death in the Iraq war, her sadness intensifies at Christmas because it reminds her that her children were too young when he died to remember him during his favorite holiday. Some people expressed an overwhelming feeling of expectation, that holidays require being social and happy, buying the right gifts, accepting invitations, being as good as the media tells us we have to be, and accomplishing all of this in a short period of […]

Christmas Past and Present

  When I grew up in rural Connecticut in the 1950s, we attended church in Quakertown, an area in Ledyard founded by the Rogerene Quakers in the 17th century. The Quakers of that time were trying to escape persecution by the Congregationalists. Both of my parents had been born at home in Ledyard and were descendants of the Rogerenes. The church service had evolved since the early days and had become fundementalist, similiar to a Southern Baptist style. The main event of every worship service was music and lots of “praising” as people stood up spontaneously to say, “Praise the Lord!” They would mention the sick and needy during the praising periods and ask for blessings. Some people were overtaken by the Holy Spirit and rolled on the floor in the aisle while speaking in tongues, a nonsensical language over which the speaker supposedly has no control. For me, it seemed like a curious explosion of adult emotion. Kids didn’t “know” this language but grownups appeared to feel better afterwards. When they recovered and got back in their pew, they would be smiling and perspiring. I’m not sure what anyone expected, but they seemed relieved. At Christmastime there were trees laced with paper chains and ropes strung with cranberries and popcorn at the front of the church. Choirs and soloists sang carols and children performed pageants and memorized poems. My grandmother inscribed my poem on the back of an empty Christmas card box. She wrote it out in longhand and, because I couldn’t yet read at age four when I was assigned my first poem, she spoke […]

When Holidays are not Happy Days

  I was deeply touched by the responses to a question I posed on Facebook recently when I asked for thoughts on why people become depressed (or more depressed) around the holidays and which holiday is the most challenging. No one spoke about having to work on a holiday as a source of distress and no one mentioned cooking, but this was a limited sample. A sense of loss was number one; loss of family members, traditions, and place (for those who have moved far away from what they call “home”), especially when the losses were irrevocable. Certain people in our lives seem to be beacons for how to celebrate and enjoy a holiday. One person described her deceased husband as loving Christmas so much that the tree kept getting bigger every year and they finally had to buy a bigger house. When he was gone, it was difficult to get into the spirit in the same way. Christmas is a time when we miss people the most. One person mentioned that her sadness since her husband’s death in Iraq is greater at Christmas because it reminds her that her children were too young to remember their father. He died when they were babies. Right behind loss was the overwhelming sense of expectation; that holidays require being social and happy, buying gifts, buying the right gifts, accepting invitations, being as good as the media tells us we have to be, and accomplishing all this in a short period of time (if you haven’t been shopping all year!). December 26 is a day of enormous relief for many people. Maybe that’s the day the party should be held. After expectations, a […]

Parenting, Motherlove, and Guns: Why Teach Children to Kill?

I’m not sure we can understand the “how” or the “why” in the aftermath of this recent massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, but there are reasons to see this event as an anomaly; the result of negligent stupidity on the part of a parent. The National Association of School Psychologists is suggesting that children should be reassured that this shooting was an unusual event and they are safe in their schools. http://www.nasponline.org. This may be true, but only if parents of children with mental health issues make wise decisions about which activities are beneficial and life enhancing. The mother in this case collected guns and taught her child how to shoot them. Her relationship with her son was described as “close.”   It is also a reality that the winter holidays are accompanied, for many people, by a malaise: a sad inefficacy, a complex of emotions that can become almost intolerable. Some folks are unhappy because they think they “should” be happy. Others resent that they are no longer children and they can’t line up at Santa Land and sit on the lap of a benevolent fat man who will make all wishes come true.   What is this unhappiness that spreads over so many like a film of grimy discontent during this holiday when hours of daylight decrease and the symbols of childhood magic increase? Decorated trees, wreaths, toys, red and gold wrapped gifts, diamond studded fake snow – all full of the promise of happiness.  Some could experience a kind of profound disappointment that life isn’t what it appears to be.   When people are disappointed and desperate for solace, they might do almost anything. For example, if they think their mother loves guns more than […]