Where’s the Joy?

Joy to the world. Peace on earth, goodwill toward man. Be of good cheer. These phrases are often mentioned in conjunction with Christmas, but do we actually experience any of these during December? I’ll confess, some years, I struggle to experience joy because the Christmas season feels like more added to the already burgeoning to-do list. Am I a hopeless Scrooge? At this most wonderful time of the year, why do we sometimes feel depressed and downhearted?

Following are some reasons I’ve discovered for a lack of holiday joy:

  • Rushing the season. My father used to take great delight in teasing. One of his strategies at Christmas was to adopt a Bah-Humbug attitude and quote, “Rushing the season, aren’t you?” But he was right. Every year, stores gear up earlier for the huge commercialism that Christmas has become. By the time December arrives, we’re already experiencing burnout from the endless displays of Christmas wares, sales, and spending hype.
  • Over spending. All of us fall into the trap of giving additional and bigger gifts each year. Advertisers are adept at convincing us we need to rush out and purchase big dollar items quickly before they’re all gone or shop early to get the best deals. A Christmas budget, if we even pretend to have one, evaporates amid sale flyers and emails that promise special discounts if purchased in the next four hours or before midnight. When the bills flood in, joy disappears.
  • Over-commitment. If it exhausts you to look at your December calendar, consider learning a wonderful little word for next year – “no.” Practice saying it for a whole year and you may successfully avert a crowded calendar next year. Better yet, cancel a few things this year. Decide it’s okay to skip something you always do this year. Opt for a family evening at home.
  • Pleasing others. “You’re not making the ‘rotten’ coconut cake with sour cream icing that has to stay in the refrigerator for five days before serving? And you’re not putting all the angels in your dining room? And you’re not having two trees? And you’re not preparing all the food you usually serve on Christmas Eve? But I always look forward to all that!” Meeting the expectations of others at Christmas is a sure path to depression and exhaustion. It’s not up to you to be the source of joy for everyone.
  • Missing loved ones. Most of us hold fond memories of Christmas past, but often remembrance is bittersweet because loved ones are absent. While empty chairs at the table may have been filled with members of the next generation, there is still a lingering melancholy for those who are no longer present.
  • Shifted focus. With society’s efforts at political correctness, tolerance, and embracing all ideologies, Christmas has morphed into a celebration of…what? Giving? Spending? Often, it’s difficult to focus on the true reason for the celebration. Santa Claus, who knows what you are thinking, if you’ve been bad or good, and if you’re sleeping or awake, and Jesus, who knows all the same things about you, have become, for many, merely mythical figures who have the power to grant wishes and bestow favors. The idea of celebrating the birthday of an illegitimate Jewish baby who was born over 2000 years ago in a smelly cattle barn to a virgin teenager seems far-fetched, archaic, and somehow not very enlightened or progressive. We’ve become so sophisticated that it is easier to give expensive gifts, host elaborate parties, and dash through December in a mad rush than reserve time for quiet reflection and introspection.

So how can you move beyond sadness and lack of joy at Christmas? Start by giving yourself permission to feel what you are feeling without chastising yourself. Then, do some things to help your joy increase. Set a budget and stick to it. Strive for a December calendar with more white space. Do only as much as you feel like doing, even if others complain. Make time for exercise, music, quiet contemplation, and unhurried time with family and friends. Look for joy in snatches rather than in the whole season and savor those moments.

At this most wonderful time of the year, why do we sometimes feel depressed and downhearted?

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