The season of goodwill?

I recently read this article:-

Surviving Christmas Depression and Holiday Blues

It started me thinking about the excesses and paradoxes of this time of year. People who are normally rational get caught up in the hoopla and end up doing things that at any other time of the year would seem ridiculous and unnecessary.

Decorating one’s house, for example, with tacky shiny things and even more tacky fairy lights. Buying enough food to last a small African nation several weeks and eating it in a 1 or 2 day orgy of excess. Attending a church service when one has absolutely no interest in organised religion. And that at midnight, for chrissakes. Sending hundreds of pieces of glitter-covered cardboard through the post to people we normally only see at funerals, and then only when we cannot avoid attending. Placing a huge felled tree in one’s living room. Enduring bitter arguments with family members normally best kept at a distance. It goes on…

It’s all pretty stupid, and yet at christmas millions of people do it purely because others are doing it, these sheep-like instincts being wrapped up in vague justifications with phrases like “christmas spirit” and “the season of goodwill”.

Last Year

I speak as someone with no religious beliefs, who would like nothing better than for the whole tradition to die out, like cock-fighting or slavery. And yet it’s impossible to put such a cocoon around myself that what’s going on doesn’t affect me at all. A little history…

I am one of those people who went straight from living in a family who liked to celebrate christmas, to living with a girlfriend who liked to celebrate christmas. When my partner and I separated in 2010, that year was the first year when I could do precisely what I wanted during the christmas season. What I wanted, of course, was to ignore it, so ignore it I did.

But it’s not always easy going against the herd, particularly when the herd is so caught up in social excess that solitary people with different priorities get lost in the crowd. I found that I felt lonely, in spite of not having any interest in joining others’ festivities. The people I would normally turn to for company were not available, precisely because they were caught up in the whole “eat, drink and be merry” vibe, and the feeling of solitude (which normally I am quite comfortable with) was heightened by the contrast between my choice and the choices of others.

Although I managed to avoid becoming depressed, I found my thinking becoming quite negative. It may be a season of goodwill, but goodwill did not appear to involve sensitivity. I decided that Christmas was actually the season when more people are oblivious to the situations of others than any other time of the year.

I didn’t regret my choice not to get dragged in to the festivities – but I knew I needed a better way to handle it.

This Year

This year, I spent some serious time thinking about how to deal with this annual challenge. Once again I have friends who I normally see regularly, but who will be unavailable to me due to their seasonal obligations – in some cases travelling abroad for up to three weeks.

I realised that the times last christmas when I felt best was when I was busy, distracted from what was going on around me. I remember going for a short hike on christmas day and how it made me feel much better.

For me, travel is the supreme distraction – seeing different places, doing different things, simply feeling different than one would at home. So it seemed to me that leaving Malta for a few days would be the best protection against seasonal loneliness and risk of depression.

I was ready to travel alone, but in the end, I have found one friend who used to be keen on christmas but who has become more cynical about the dubious benefits of following the crowd and enduring time with their family, with all the pressures that go with it.

We decided that the most logical thing would be to travel together, thereby avoiding all other commitments and hopefully being distracted by the simple delight in being somewhere else.

So, next week will see me travelling to Italy with my friend, for some city strolling, country walking, good food and good conversation.

There will be no christmas trees in our hotel rooms, no cards cluttering up shelves, no nightmare family dinners, no repeats on the TV – but hopefully no loneliness either.

I think I may have cracked the problem. I’ll let you know in January.

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