by Triantafillia Memisaki
Christmas is upon us. The most wonderful time of the year! But not for everyone. Despite all the bells, lights and trees… in spite of all the mistletoe, presents and carols… there are people out there who just don’t consider this to be ‘the season to be jolly’. Sadly, some people are going through a very hard time. In most parts of the Western world, it goes so far as to develop into serious depression and high levels of suicide. But what causes all this undue stress? Why especially this time of year?
For one thing, it’s the end of another year and for a lot of people that means extreme self-reflection. Coming up with a New Year’s resolution means going over all the things you didn’t accomplish in the year that passed and all the problems that remain unsolved. But it’s not just that. Unrealistic expectations created by excessive commercialization, with the focus on “perfect” social activities, lead people to put themselves in situations they really don’t want to be in. There’s the expectation for social gatherings with family, friends and acquaintances that they’d rather not spend time with, and the pressure to spend a lot of money on gifts, thus increasing debt.
Another reason that people become unhappy this season is because this is when they feel the loneliest. Everyone is “supposed to be” with their loved ones and some people who have suffered the loss of a loved one or their job, they are reminded of their loss considerably more often this time of year.
Over here in the Mediterranean, specifically in Greece, the level of Christmas-induced depression is much lower. Our secret? I know it sounds cheesy, but it’s because we remember the true spirit of Christmas. Yes, everyone knows that it’s about spreading love and joy, but it’s the way you do it that makes all the difference. There’s no reason to go crazy trying getting all the details right. Try Christmas the Greek way – carefree and cheery!
Giving the people you care about gifts is a great way to show your affection. However, you must be careful not to go overboard. You are not required to get a present for every single member of your family, group of friends or workplace. Especially for us in the Mediterranean, where families are typically large, there’s no way everyone can get something for everyone, or we would go broke. Therefore, take it from us. You could get a Secret Santa tradition started, so that each person only has to get a present for one other person. And the gifts you do get don’t have to be expensive either. It’s true what they say that it’s the thought that counts. If the person receiving the gift really cares about you, they won’t judge you based on the price of your present. Set boundaries regarding the money you can afford to spend on presents. Or better yet, take the time to put together home-made gifts! Those are always much appreciated – and easy on the wallet.
Also, money isn’t the only thing you would benefit from setting boundaries on. Your time is just as important. Perhaps even more so. There is no law stating that you have to attend every single social event you are invited to. People should understand if you have prior engagements. Neither is there a rule that you absolutely must organize a special dinner or party. All this perception does is force upon you time-consuming “duties” that stress you out and take your focus off what is truly important. A casual little get-together with the most important in your life people will be just as pleasant whether you serve a giant roast turkey or your renowned spaghetti Bolognese. So what if your neighbor’s hosting a fancy gala with champagne and caviar? You’re having way more fun playing Twister with the family and nibbling on potato chips while in your pajamas!
In Greece, we don’t wait for others to invite us. We invite everyone we know and welcome them into our humble home without going overboard trying to make it look extravagant! And if everyone we know already has plans, we head right over to a local establishment and attend their party instead. At least one store or center will certainly be organizing some sort of event, so don’t be afraid to ask around, if you’re looking for something with lots of people to interact with.
That being said, try to keep in mind that there is no “perfect” way to spend Christmas that you have to adhere to. Don’t accept any such representation that the media, institutions or other people force on you. By lowering your expectations and seeing this holiday for what it is: a normal set of days, just like any other, with the sole difference that you are given time off work to spend with those you care about. Enjoy the moments you have with your family and friends. If there is something in your life that causes you sadness, remember that there are other people out there who share your pain, whether it’s for the same reasons or their own. Becoming involved in giving joy to those people in a non-monetary way through charities and worthwhile causes can significantly help raise your spirits. It can also help you see things from a different perspective, and will show you how to be grateful for what you have in life, rather than focusing on the things you don’t have. If, despite all this, you insist on all that unnecessary rumination about your life, at least make sure you realize that you have it pretty good compared to so many others.
Of course, us Greeks know that life is short and we don’t waste a single moment of it feeling sorry for ourselves. A trait of ours that really helps us stay positive is that we don’t conform to norms. If we’re not the social type we simply see this extra time as an opportunity to pamper ourselves. Lazing around the house in your pajamas, watching movies and enjoying the peace and quiet can do you a world of good, if you just give into it and stop feeling guilty about not spending Christmas the way you’re “supposed to”.
Finally, if you are feeling blue because you’re reminded of a previous Christmas that you spent differently and enjoyed more than this one, there’s really only one cure: Remind yourself that every year can’t be exactly the same and that’s the beauty of life! You have a brand new opportunity on an annual basis to come up with new ways to have a good time. And if at first you don’t succeed, there’s always next year! All you need is a little bravery and positive attitude. By keeping all these things in mind, you can change your circumstance and make the most out of the holidays.
If you need help overcoming pessimism, becoming a little more optimistic or learning how to spend the holidays alone, feel free to consult these videos:
How to Stop Being A Pessimist – Part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OQB_h0Qsqww&feature=g-upl
How to Stop Being A Pessimist – Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DJsNUXe0c2c&feature=g-upl
How to Develop Optimism: