By Richard Bailey
How many of us have a dream of Christmas, as we used to know it, beginning around December 1 or even as early as Halloween and thereon until December 25?
Probably most folk spend some of their sleeping hours in dreams, as well as thoughts in waking hours, that re-connect us with the nostalgia of Christmases past.
My experience as a therapist, now retired, is one of helping people struggle with their depression around the holidays. Memories of terrible Christmases re-emerge for some and for others their current problematic realities mean this Christmas will not be pleasant. The contrasting social myth about the wonder of Christmas strikes these people hard.
It is not only the clinical population who suffer from holiday blues. Many people experience a situational depression around this time of year that is mostly about expectations and disappointment. Expectations are high: Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men, Mr. Scrooge discovering the gift of giving just in time, families together in harmony, great food and drink, wondrous gifts for all, Santa coming down the chimney, childhood visions of sugarplums dancing in our head!
When this doesn’t come together perfectly, well we suffer a sense of sadness and loss. Since we want to prevent that disappointment, we work hard to maintain the magic – especially for the children around us.
Most of us had good childhood Christmases. We benefitted from our parents’ labouring hard and long to create the magic of Christmas. It is a labour of love. It worked and we had wonderful joy and stored away marvelous memories.
Many of the people we remember from those times most fondly might well be long gone today. We are most nostalgic about them during the holidays. Nostalgia is from the Greek, nostos- homecoming, algos- pain.
We try to maintain the magic of Christmas for our children, grandchildren and others. It is a difficult job – it takes a lot of effort, money, time, energy. But we do it as well as we can and those around us benefit from our efforts just as we did from the generosity of others long ago.
European culture, which is the root of most of our Christmas traditions, has had various important holidays going back to earliest pre-Christian history that were celebrated at this time of the year. In the Northern Hemisphere, the Winter Solstice, longest night and shortest day, is December 21.
It makes sense to have a holiday to lighten the darkest time of the year.
It is a stressful time of year. The over-winter survival of early Europeans depended on these preparations: Have we stored enough food to make it through the cold and barren winter? Will our clothing and shelter keep us from freezing? Are we safe from predators and raiders who hunt in the night?
It is the time of year long past the harvest and before the worst of winter. Just as in ancient times, our natural bodily response to the short days, lack of daylight, vitamin D and warmth is to slow down. We sleep a lot, we want to nest close to others around the fire to prevent freezing. We eat fattening foods and gain weight to survive the lack of food through the remaining cold months.
Historians are not sure when Jesus, son of Mary and Joseph, was born in a manger in Bethlehem; some think it was probably in the spring. Somehow, the European pagan Winter Solstice Holidays became linked with the birth of Jesus on or about December 21, now the 25th.
Hence, we have Christmas around the Winter Solstice. We need something to give us good will and assurance we will make it through to spring.
Among Christians, celebrating the birth of Jesus is meant to fill us with joy and faith in a better future filed with love, hope and life reborn! Christmas has evolved far from marking the birth of Christ but still represents light in the darkest time of year and hope for rebirth in the spring.
I am pleased Christmas is not simply a race for the most presents here in the Algarve. Getting together with family, sharing some gifts, caring are wonderful traditions. The baked or boiled bacalhau is an acquired taste I have yet to acquire.
This year, if we do what we can do to reflect the joys of Christmas past with those we touch we will have a good Christmas, different in many ways but still … like the ones we used to know.
|| Richard Baily and his wife Jan retired to Portugal nearly two years ago. They lived in California in Cotati, in the Sonoma County Wine Country, just North of San Francisco. They decided to move to Portugal as they enjoy the Portuguese culture, friendly people, great climate, interesting history and reasonable prices. The couple has joined the Rotary Club of Silves to continue their many years as Rotarians. Richard studied psychology and social work. His career included many years as practitioner and administrator in residential treatment with abused/neglected children as well as having a full-time private practice in Marin County, California.