Dr. Thomas Lane Butts: Christmas Blues


It should come as no surprise that Christmas is not a happy season for everyone. I cannot remember a Christmas in more than 60 years in which someone did not say to me in a confidential whisper, "I hate Christmas, and I will be glad when it is over". When I was an active Pastor, I reserved as much time as possible in the month of December for counseling with people who suffered "Christmas Blues".

People who hate Christmas nearly always feel guilty for feeling like that even though it is obvious to others that their feelings do not arise from a rejection of the real meaning of the season, but from experiences from which the real meaning is missing.

We understand when Christmas is a sad time for people who have lost a loved one during the year. The first Christmas after a death or divorce (which is a kind of death) is nearly always traumatic. But what about those who have the Christmas Blues for no visible or socially acceptable reason? They suffer silently or attribute their sad feelings to something other than the real reason. There is something very non-specific about the Christmas Blues. One person said: "At Christmas something in you gets so lonely for -- I don't know what exactly, but it is something you don't mind not having at other times".

Until recently Christmas depression and other negative Christmas feelings were "closet" problems. Seldom would anyone openly admit that they hated to see the season come, or that they always got depressed, or drank too much, or felt cheated by a holiday that promised so much and gave so little. I am not sure who "blew the cover" on this great American embarrassment. But now that you know there are other people who feel this way, perhaps you can face up to your own negative feelings about Christmas with more courage and less shame -- and sham.

The commercial establishment in America has, to a large extent, taken over Christmas, and to increase their revenue they saturate our children with advertisements that pump up expectations of gifts and unrealistic magical wonder about Christmas. The parents, of course, enjoy providing the magic, however awash it may be in commercialism. From the earliest age our children are the recipients of free gifts from a magical character from the North Pole who not only knows exactly where they live and what they want, but who strangely knows exactly what size they wear, and who is able to deliver the goods to every kid in the world between 9:00 P.M. on Christmas Eve and 5:30 A.M. on Christmas Day. Most children are not aware of how illogical this picture is, and if they are, they do not mention it.

One of the earliest grief/loss experiences of many children is the death of the Santa Claus myth. Some children know the truth long before they admit it, and even then the blow is softened by the fact that the free gifts keep on coming.

Since we are taught at such an early age that Christmas is to be a very happy time of family, magic and wonder unaccompanied by conflict, bills, and responsibility, unconsciously we may still expect Christmas to be like that when we are adults. But that's not the way it is, of course. And for adults with the unrealistic fantasies and expectations of a five year old, Christmas is disappointing and depressing. The fact that we are adults does not lessen the disappointment, it only makes it more difficult to express/admit to such childish/unrealistic fantasies.

Family gatherings at Christmas are often the scene of many conflicts. Feelings are intense and people are more sensitive than usual, as they wait to see if their expectations will be met. People are together who have not been together for a long time, and they have changed from how they remember each other. They are not "themselves" as we remember them. We are displaced from our daily routine. All in all, it creates a perfect climate for people to be nervous, irritable, and generally fractious.

What can we do to get ourselves in tune with the reason for the season and put more joy into Christmas? Doubtless we all know enough to create our own set of solutions. It is a matter of becoming thoughtful and intentional about it. Get started by reading the traditional account of the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:1-20), and then give some depth to the event by reading John 1:1-18. And, do something to help someone else -- quietly and secretly. This will not cure Christmas blues for everyone, but it may help.