A not so Merry Christmas: you’re not alone if you’re dreading the big day

’Tis the season to be not so jolly. Adam shouts out all the people that aren’t feeling so festive

Christmas. A time of joy. Children at their loudest; mankind at its jolliest; bellies at their fullest. The most wonderful time of the year. But, is it?

My advent calendar sits on my desk. I shudder at the ever-growing number of opened doors. Every morning, I take the chocolate and guiltily nibble at it. Christmas fills me with dread every year, without fail.

I know, deep down, I should join in with the festivities, but it’s hard for me to be happy around the festive season, when Christmas is associated with tension; fear; and intolerance. Even with a festive hat and an artificial smile, I just can’t be merry, and it’s the same for many, especially young people.

It’s too early for this, I think to myself. My second box of Lynx Africa, and it’s only 8am.

It’s too early for this, I think to myself. My second box of Lynx Africa, and it’s only 8am. Another year, and, yet again, nobody has read my extensive email about the absurdity of gendered toiletries, and how I would wish to smell like I’ve just frolicked in a field of flowers, instead of knocking out five rounds in a sweaty boys’ changing room. A face mask would be really helpful in this moment. I know I sound ungrateful, but it’s hard when your friends get carefully chosen gifts (that will inevitably be paraded on social media).

Onto lunch. I have nothing against turkey, but (like Christmas itself) it’s just bland, and inoffensive. Tasteless, like the tacky trees lined up like materialistic soldiers in department stores. A few courses of festive screaming matches and the gravy’s secret ingredient reveals itself: subtle tears. After a whole jar of cranberry sauce on a plate full of food, it’s time for the only redeemable feature of the day: Panettone and yule log. It would be a delight, except, at this point anything would taste good from the amount of festive alcohol I’ve consumed thanks to my drinking game, “take a swig every time granny says something racist”.

Afterwards, we sit and brood in mutual exhaustion from food comas and tension, because today is the one day that I am banned from pointing out the stupidity of the conversation points.

Christmas is a lot harder for people whose worries aren’t as fickle as mine. For a time so absorbed by money, Christmas is anything but festive for those in poverty.

Christmas is a lot harder for people whose worries aren’t as fickle as mine. For a time so absorbed by money, Christmas is anything but festive for those in poverty. Turkeys and trimmings are not the main priority for those who don’t know where their next meal may come from, never mind what presents they will be able to buy their children, still entranced in the magic of Santa, not quite ready to have their current hopes and dreams crushed.

Christmas is a huge financial pressure, making life harder for those who suffer the most hardship.

Thankfully, community projects and charities offer a helping hand with donations and food banks, yet often fall short and experience their highest demand at Christmas, having no choice but to leave many to go hungry. Nearly 200,000 people last year were given three-day emergency food packages, just under 50% higher than the monthly average. The Trussell Trust expects to give out over 800,000 food packages this festive period.  This is all before we even take the socioeconomic effects of Coronavirus to account. Whilst we may all try our bests to force ourselves to be happy (“it’s just one day!”), I simply can’t ignore the devastation that takes place for those in need, especially heightened by the over-significance of the day.

Christmas can also be very socially isolating, yet very few speak out about the struggles they face around this time. I believe this is down to what I call “scrooge-shaming”. Many feel they cannot either speak out or be taken seriously because they will simply be called a “grinch”. A quote from the Mind website sums it up perfectly – “Feeling ‘other’ in conversations about how people had happy holiday seasons can really take a toll, and it can make you nervously anticipate or resent upcoming holidays”.

We could simply laugh this off if it wasn’t a matter of life and death. So-called widespread holiday cheer amplifies hopelessness and isolation, seeing a rise in depression and calls to hotlines like Shout, CALM, and Samaritans. It’s not like we choose to be depressed, we just cannot engage in the forced happiness. I myself feel like an outsider looking in, watching those around me marvel in their joy, whilst I just watch, knowing all too well that everyone around me is having far more fun.

I myself feel like an outsider looking in, watching those around me marvel in their joy, whilst I just watch, knowing all too well that everyone around me is having far more fun.

Despite the twinkling lights, warm hot chocolates, and the joyful spirits, seeing everyone else at their most cheerful is an isolating and daunting experience and reminder for those with other mental illnesses too, especially SAD. Those with SAD simply can’t ignore the winter with a plate of turkey and sprouts, and some sweaty large man pretending to bring (temporary) joy to children. Whilst some with SAD may enjoy the charm of Christmas, stress is often multiplied afterwards due to the reminder that the long; cold darkness of January and February are yet to come.

This is all before the social distancing rules of lockdown are considered. The elderly are often at their loneliest during Christmas, which will be even more difficult this year as families are not encouraged to travel, forcing them to choose between keeping their elderly relatives safe, and seeing them at Christmas. Age UK reported that over 530,000 elderly people dread Christmas as it’s “just another day” of loneliness. I am not denying anyone of their happiness, but, please, consider those around you.

As a result of all this, Christmas will have to be paused for many around the country. 2020 has truly illustrated the plight of the NHS and the bravery of the everyday heroes – our frontline workers, especially (but not limited to) doctors, nurses, and carers. For many of them, there is no time to stop and celebrate on Christmas day. Not only will they have to cope with the Covid patients, but Christmas also sees an increase in admissions to A&E and hospital care, with more elderly deaths in winter, leaving behind grief as well. Perhaps, Christmas isn’t enough for our modern saviours, caring after who may be our families, friends, or neighbours. It’s important to remember Christmas brings a huge burden to many. It may be time to consider how we ourselves interpret Christmas, and how we can help Christmas not be a period of despair.

It’s important to remember Christmas brings a huge burden to many. It may be time to consider how we ourselves interpret Christmas, and how we can help Christmas not be a period of despair.

What can you do? I’ve experienced days of feeling hopeless, worrying that there isn’t anything you can do to help those around you. Remember that Christmas can be triggering to some, especially to those recovering from eating disorders or issues with alcohol, especially for a holiday so revolving around food and wine. Do not comment on how much food one is eating, and take into consideration everybody is trying their best. Take time to celebrate those who have gone, and are no longer with us, due to the pandemic or not.

If I haven’t made you totally dread Christmas (sorry!), please have a wonderful time and look out for those around you. Take time to consider your own feelings. Take time to appreciate your own situation and consider how you can help those less fortunate. Finally, a personal request: take time to (politely) educate your own family members this Christmas – this year has taught us how vital time is to the rights of others – we simply cannot let it slide!

Have a wonderful Christmas and a happy new year.

PS: Whether you’re a fan of Christmas, or not, please reach out to somebody if you’re struggling. You can contact me on Instagram @adam__a_h; or reach out to a charity like OTR, Mind, Calm, and Samaritans.

This Christmas, please reach out to those around you. Call your friends; check on your neighbours; thank your grandparents.

No matter the time of year, please be merry in knowing that you are not alone.

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