By Bonnie Newman Davis
The string of Christmas commercials that sell everything from love to laptops are in full throttle. So are high-voltage holiday house tours, televised Christmas specials, singing Santas and endless “final sales.”
Wait. Don’t forget the cards to be mailed, gifts to be wrapped, parties to attend, cleaning to do and meals to make.
For many, the annual hustle and bustle of the holiday season is eagerly anticipated. Others, however, often dread the season. Rather than counting the days until Christmas arrives, many count the days until it ends.
Reasons for the lack of Christmas cheer among nearly 45 percent of Americans vary, according to a 2011 Psychology Today article, which noted that many people are turned off or become stressed by the season’s “unrealistic expectations” and “excessive commercialization.”
Faye Z. Belgrave, Ph.D. and a professor in the Psychology Department at Virginia Commonwealth University, believes that money and lack of time are two leading causes of stress during the holidays. Recent national tragedies have added a layer of sadness for many this holiday season.
“With everything going on – ISIS, police incidents—being so close to the holidays tends to magnify everything,” said Belgrave.
One way to avoid being stressed, is to develop a strategy, the same as you would in preventing a cold, said Belgrave, who encourages people to think about ways to relieve the impact of stress and reframe the holidays.
“Think of it as a season in which you are able to or can be happy, content and satisfied,” she said. “Think through the gift giving. Every situation is different. Do you prefer to do nothing? I think about each person who is important to me. Older family members like cards or a telephone conversation.”
It is also important to develop and stick to a holiday budget. Belgrave discourages spending money that you don’t have.
“We often give gifts because it’s expected,” she said. “If you can’t afford it, you can’t afford it. Instead, develop family rituals. We usually go see a movie, but you can watch a movie on Netflix.”
Belgrave also suggests sticking to regular routines as much as possible, such as working out, and limiting extra activities such as parties. “Five or six parties are crazy. Decide to only attend one or two. It’s better to have not enough to do than too much to do.”
Too much social media during the holidays can add stress, too, said Belgrave. Staying off social media is a simple strategy for alleviating feelings of inadequacy brought on by others’ posts of glowing Christmas celebrations.
Main Street or the Message of Christ?
The Rev. Dr. James H. Harris, pastor of Richmond’s Second Baptist Church on Idlewood Avenue, acknowledges that the real meaning of Christmas, “peace on earth,” tends to be overlooked amid society’s materialistic and stress-filled culture.
“Christmas should be a time of peace where there is a cessation of violence and all kinds of things that bring suffering,” said Harris. “People need to figure out how they are going to negotiate and not be pulled into the Main Street selling, pushing and shoving. We already have the greatest gift of all, which is the gift of Christ.”
Harris, the author of several books on preaching and theology, said while there is little to be done about the capitalization, commercialism and greed that often are associated with the Christmas holidays, his platform as an ordained minister enables him to address such issues.
Harris said that he advises congregants to celebrate Christmas for its meaning and decide how Christ is reflected in their lives.
He encourages giving gifts not just to family and friends, but to those who are unable to purchase gifts for themselves. Lastly, Harris urges celebrants to “envision a message of peace, love and joy that Christ embodied.”
Silence is Silver and Gold
“I am silent for 30 minutes each day,” said Ricks. “I put a lot of stuff out of my head and just be grateful. It’s so wonderful to be quiet to connect with your creator. As a result, your spiritual is ‘on’ all day long.”
Being still can also help others develop a center that doesn’t have room for fear, said Ricks, who encourages her clients to focus on the positive and what they can do.
“Fear is in your head. Live every day as if it’s your last, and enjoy it and expect to have an amazing day,” she said. “When you stay in the present, it never ends.”
Ricks conducts a “Listening to the Silence” retreat every month at Richmond Hill, an ecumenical Christian fellowship and residential community, which seeks healing through prayer, hospitality, racial reconciliation and spiritual development.
Ricks’ Richmond Hill sessions, which include reading Bible passages, journaling, and reflection, enable participants “to find the safe space in order to invite God in,” she said.
Lead Me Home
Religion and spirituality, the true meaning of Christmas, are constant themes in many of the eight books written by Stacy Hawkins Adams, a Richmond-based author and inspirational speaker. Adams doesn’t limit her uplifting messages to her books, lectures and speaking engagements. Every morning, her social media followers receive words of encouragement and enlightenment to help jump-start their day.
Adams readily acknowledges that the holidays can be wrought with sadness for people grieving the loss of loved ones. Having recently lost a sister, Adams posted this moving passage on Facebook after her sibling’s death:
Our culture is so afraid of death and dying that we often endure our grief in silence, and force others to do the same. But since my mother’s death a decade ago, I’ve learned that grief is not to be feared nor forced away.
While none of us enjoy experiencing it, granting ourselves the time and space to mourn offers proof that love reigned in our relationship with the one we’ve lost, and that this living being made an impact while on this earth. Whether our purpose is great or small, our impact can be powerful through the people we touch in simple and significant ways.
So I share this not to gain your pity or make you sad, but to encourage anyone who is grieving or depressed today and during this holiday season to go ahead and cry. Share stories about your loved one, then nudge yourself to smile through your tears.
I’m sure that’s what our loved ones would want.
I know for certain that while the sadness never truly leaves and you essentially learn to live with a broken heart, even broken hearts keep ticking, and good memories can eventually overshadow deep loss. Whatever the rest of your day holds, make sure you hold your loved ones close and cherish this particular season with them. And cry if you must! When your tears dry, you’ll be ready to help someone else endure.
Bonnie Newman Davis is a Richmond-based journalist, journalism educator and news media consultant.