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The Christmas Holidays: The Best of Times and the Worst of Times

Most everyone looks forward to the Christmas holidays. What’s not to like? The holidays include time off from work, a chance to get out of town, sweet and nostalgic music, lots of great food, family and feel-good moments. Many people actually enjoy all the gift shopping for loved ones, especially when wrapping them can be an endearing reminder of their love for each person on their holiday list.

Yet, as therapists, every year around the holidays we receive calls from current clients requesting extra appointments, former clients who feel a need to come back, and new clients who are finding the holidays difficult enough to seek professional help. These additional calls remind us that the holidays are not a happy time of year for all.

What is this dichotomy during the holidays – experienced as both the best of times and the worst of times?

It is like all good things, they sometimes tempt us to exaggerate, to put too many eggs in one basket, to try to make life too perfect. It’s a natural human tendency to try to use a good thing to cover up, avoid or compensate for the imperfections in our lives. And when everyone around us is seemingly euphoric, and we are all excited too, we become rather “set up” for disappointment when reality sometimes does not fit within our plans. Unfortunately, what goes up, usually comes down.

The season can also act like a magnifying glass, or bullhorn, reminding us of the ongoing challenges of our life. It can be like chronic pain that keeps intruding into our best of moments. While many people do their best to get into the spirit of the holidays, some people’s lives are very hard, and unfortunately highlighted during the holidays despite our best efforts.

Things are not right in our lives.  If we are struggling with problems and concerns, it may be hard to get into the holiday season and see everyone else appear so blissfully happy. It can tempt us to feel depressed, unlucky, inadequate, and even resentful (humbug!). However, feeling bad in such a situation could be the beginning of an inner call to do something about your life to improve things—like a call to arms, or a recognition of your need for some changes.
Life can be wondrous, but it is not perfect. There is a mystery of opposites in everything, in which beautiful moments can be fleeting or even come crashing down, only to level off or soar again. Our challenge is to hold onto the core of our values and meaning in life, to live out optimism, love and common sense in both the good times and the bad. The Biblical book of Proverbs tells us “to everything there is a season,” and that there is a time for everything in life that is good and everything that is unpleasant as well. So, we should not be shocked when things are not perfect, but focus on building upon what is happy and good.

George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life, and Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol, remind us to see the good in things, to be thankful and to open our hearts to love and charity if we want to “catch” the spirit of Christmas.

Finally, it is no wonder the brightest and cheeriest of holidays have evolved around the shortest, coldest and darkest days of the year. It is true that the weather outside is frightful, but it is also true that life’s gifts continue to warm us and give us pause to be glad and thankful even then. Christmas comes but once a year.  It is a lift we all can use, especially in the cold, dark days of winter. And apart from the deep meaning of Christmas religiously for Christians where “Light shineth in the darkness,” for all people the reality is that the human spirit thrives, and lives, even in the darkness of winter season, and that life is good, even if it is sometimes hard and imperfect.

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Clark Barshinger, Ph.D.

Practicing clinical psychology for over 50 years, Dr. Clark Barshinger has broad and deep experience counseling patients. His graduate education includes a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from Northwestern University and a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology from DePaul University, and Master’s Degree of Divinity from McCormick Theological Seminary. He works mostly with adults, teens and couples.

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