Surviving Christmas

From the cover of David Sedaris, ‘Holidays on Ice’ (1997) 1

This post was written in conjunction with the following meeting, to be held on Monday, 23rd December in Berlin, Germany, 20:00-22:00

This post was written in conjunction with the following event, held on Monday, 23rd December in Berlin, Germany, 20:00-22:00

If psychological suffering can be defined as the gap between how things are and how I expect them to be, Christmas is a rich harvest 2. It’s a time when many families, where mutual dislikes have developed their own traditions, attempt to put that reality to one side in the service of an illusion. And many people, with no faith in magic, imagine that Christmas itself will heal deep familial wounds. Children are exposed to social tensions that were only created so that the same children could endure them. Throw in excessive eating and drinking as a soporific, shake it all about like a snow globe, let that bake for a few hours, and stand back for the magic.

“… why love/feels just/like rage.” Xmas: A Poem, Amanda Bell, 2019. 3

On the other hand, people estranged from their families are subject to the same fantasies, all the more painful without an event to explode them. Christmas can be a long meditation on isolation, “The Feast of St. Loneliness” 4. The further you are from the reality of a family life, the more tortuous can become your warm imaginings.

“Kreest-maas? Itz foor da keeds!”, as is said in Dublin. It is true, in that children get to see just how poorly the adults they are to emulate practice selfcare. But what is Christmas for?

The psychologist Mary Ainsworth had a delightful motto: “Never miss an opportunity to hold a baby” 5. Here is this baby, Jesus in a manger. How do I get to pick him up? As the Christian symbols are jaded 6, I will switch cultures.

Here we are, approaching the depths of winter. A hard time of the year 7. But, according to the yin and yang model 8, exactly here must lie the first seed of the new and light, and the New Year 9. By New Year, I don’t mean the equally tense and inebriated celebration, but that full New Year, including its summer. The seed is small, but that’s why we need to do some work to find it in ourselves. This is where we can pick up the baby of the New Year, even though it may only be the moment of conception, or the moment of desire. Here is the first seed, in the darkest night.

I do have a request for you. Please get yourself something for Christmas. Something that will give you a smile, and a promise of new life 10. If you resist this, and say that presents to yourself do not count, I ask you to reconsider. Consider how you either burden others to telepath your happiness, or burden yourself with a disappointment in others for not doing for you what you can do for yourself. Consider how much happiness you can give to others, once you have found something for yourself.

So, my interest isn’t in what Christmas is supposed to be. My interest is in what YOU can do with it. If one less person can be tense and miserable this Christmas, make that person you. If Christmas already fills you with delight, I am very happy for you. If it doesn’t, I wish you the happiest Christmas possible.

  2. According to some models, pain is what we are given, and suffering is what we make of it. This corresponds with Buddhist Second Arrow theory
  4. “Christmas is the Feast of St Loneliness.

    I street-walk at night
    Looking in the windows
    Of other people’s houses
    Assessing their Christmas decorations,
    Marking them out of ten.”

    Paul Durcan, ‘Christmas Day’ (1997)


    This was at a time when best medical practice was to NOT pick up crying infants, as if would only encourage them to cry. Of course this message was in the language of conditioning, as if the human requirement for care and stimulation matched Pavlov’s dog’s requirement to salivate. Perhaps at some time this practice will be seen as one of the major atrocities of the 20th Century. It comes to mind whenever I hear someone discuss the emotional coldness of their parents or grandparents. Did they spend their first years learning that no-one cared for them?

  6. Delightful Dublin slang, meaning exhausted, from jade: 1. a bad-tempered or disreputable woman.2. an old or worn-out horse. Pronounced with a very long ‘a’: “Jayyyyy-dead”.
  7. for surviving winter, see
  9. It is a source of regret to me, that our New Year calendar no longer corresponds with the longest night (22nd December). I guess that was too pagan.
  10. Heaven forbid, I am not suggesting that you find your Inner Child. Go look for an Inner Adult.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *