A philosophical look at the holiday blues. Be careful, this is very sad.
| With the arrival of every holiday season, we hear of those who wrestle with one emotional crisis or another. This occurrence may seem strange indeed since the season is wholly given to happiness and joy. Yet, as surely as snow covers the ground in many places with a mantle of white, a much darker mantel will shroud the lives and moods of thousands. Theories abound as to why this social malaise stubbornly endures, but endure it does, making what should be a joyous time a dreaded arrival.
There have always been persistent myths attaching themselves to the holiday season. First and foremost is that which claims that suicides increase during the period from Thanksgiving to Christmas. The C.D.C. actually shows the month of December to be the lowest in deaths. Does that surprise you? If it did you are not alone. We won’t go into all the reasons why the C.D.C. statistics are correct, but we will delve into a more philosophical basis as to why the holidays bring with them an inherent sadness.
Of course, what we might describe as gloomy qualities trail along with the lengthening shadows of fall and winter. The lowering skies and absence of Sunlight bring with them a natural gloom that affects most people in one way or another. We know that prolonged lack of Sunlight can bring on lethargy and depression. These are simple physiological occurrences. There are actually people who prefer the cold dark days of the fall and winter months. It is, therefore, necessary to understand that the weather doesn’t affect everyone in the same way.
Beyond what we can extract from facts and figures, there is something haunting and ethereal about the holidays, and Christmas in particular. Many of you may remember the brother and sister singing duo, “The Carpenters.” They were one of the many sensations of the 70s decade. In around 1978 the Carpenters released a Christmas album that must surely rate as one of the saddest albums I have ever heard. There are many beautiful arrangements by Richard Carpenter. And, of course, Karen Carpenter’s vocals are matchless. But, throughout the album, there is an unmistakable atmosphere of sadness. Knowing what we know about Karen’s tragic death may predispose us to a particular poignancy. But it does seem, at times, that they felt the dark shadow as well.
If you take time to carefully listen to many Christmas arrangements, you may notice that they are possessed of a despondent cadency. They are often written in minor keys which lends them a far away sound as though they emanated from another world. You may suggest that this would be in keeping with many religious choral arrangements. That may be true, but I am convinced that it goes much deeper than that.
Philosophically speaking, human beings have always sought for something beyond their ability to conceive. Consider how Christmas trees are decorated with bright and colorful lights. Those lights and decorations represent that which we seek. We may not have even the slightest realization of this, but it is revealed in the many things to which we are drawn. Families may spend hours driving through one neighborhood after another, mesmerized by the dazzling lights and decorations on review. Why would cars line up for blocks just to view displays of twinkling lights? I believe that those lights are only a physical representation of what the soul longs to embrace, beauty and peace. Imagine, if you will, a Christmas village in miniature set up for Holiday shoppers to enjoy. We have all seen them. There may be children ice skating on a pond, shoppers going from store to store, arms laden with gifts. There’s a store with a blinking sign beckoning shoppers with the promise of cakes and pies. Children nearby build a snowman while a warm yellow glow shows through every window. It is an idyllic fantasy land where we stand gazing as if to wish ourselves into the scene.
Surely, there is a reason why such idealized displays attract our deepest longings, and why these feelings can go so very wrong. Christmas is the one holiday of the year that brings with it the most exceptional promise. When the weather turns colder, people are inclined to shop for gifts and visit Santa’s Workshop with the kids in tow. Stores and Shopping Malls become lands of fantasy where adults and children alike can become lost in their dreams, if just for a moment. For the adults, there is stirred within those memories of how exciting Christmas was when they were young and carefree. For the children, it is a time of excitement and anticipation.
And then, before we realize, Christmas Eve is upon us. The last gifts have been hurriedly wrapped and nestled under the tree. Children can hardly sleep for visions of new bikes and pellet rifles, dolls, and dollhouses and a hundred other things they dreamed that Santa might bring.
Eyes open early on that beautiful crisp morning as children rush to see if they have received their heart’s desire. Parents smile and watch as their children destroy the colorful impediments covering their most cherished prizes. There is now only a sea of shredded colorful wrappings and parents who sit, saying little, with only the hope of quiet and rest.
Christmas has come and gone, and except for the hectic goings-on, we would hardly have noticed its presence. And when all is finally still in the evening hours, and the young ones have expended all they had to give to the day, we may wonder, was that all that Christmas had to offer? This day that promised everything brought very little. We may indeed ponder on how something could build itself so magnificently and fade away in a moments time. Of course, that has always been the manner of Christmas. When we were young, our boundless energy and anticipation protected us from such realizations.
So Christmas did indeed come as it does every year, and every year we place our trust in its promise of hope and beauty and joy. But then, for so many of us, the dream of what would come is lost in the harsh emptiness of deserted streets, and of warm firesides we cannot share. The merriness we thought we might enjoy turns our faces to the frigid wind of a melancholy Christmas, and the frozen tear that is paused upon our cheek.