By Dr. Easter Yassa, Registered Psychologist
I’m going to confess something shocking. I used to hate Christmas.
No sooner was the last of the Halloween candy snuck by tired parents and the last Remembrance Day poppy gently eased from coat lapels when suddenly Christmas would explode onto the scene. Decorations, lights, displays, commercials, and gifts, gifts, gifts!
Something about Christmas’ pushy materialistic self-announcement felt incongruent to me.
In early years I dealt with this by going along with it, frantically searching online and in stores, often at the last minute for the “perfect gift” that was supposed to magically make me the perfect daughter/wife/sister/friend/co-worker and simultaneously convey to the receiver that they mattered to me, all for under a certain price. But somehow I was always left wondering why I felt down and disconnected from others, feeling shortchanged in the transaction and carrying debt.
Fuelled by resentment, in later years I rebelled, avoiding all signs of Christmas – no special traditions, no carols, no Christmas movies, no purchased presents, and a general bah-humbug attitude that was my push against the commercial engine of Christmas. But somehow this left me feeling sadder and more disconnected than before as all around me seemed to be bathed in the warm sounds and sights of a magical time of year while I clung to my sense of superiority feeling isolated and cold.
And then one year, in the thick of infertility challenges and work and personal stress, I found myself wondering what I would say about Christmas to my child, should I be so lucky as to ever have one. Would I let the commercial machine of Christmas shape their beliefs of never enough-ness in themselves and in the world, fuel their anxiety to keep up with the Joneses, and encourage them to measure their self-worth against the gifts they had or hadn’t gotten when compared with their peers? Or would I encourage them to separate from the season and comfort themselves with feelings of righteous indignation?
When I turned inward and reflected I found that what touched me, stayed with me, and brought me deep personal meaning throughout my life were small moments of kindness, integrity and emotional generosity. And so I set about shifting my relationship to Christmas, using these values as my ‘true north’ in the decisions I made about how I spent the holiday season.
When faced with a deluge of holiday social obligations I would ask myself, ‘which ones align with my values?’ and commit to the ones that did, limit the ones I couldn’t get out of, and send apologies to the rest. When faced with the onslaught of commercialism, I might buy a small selection of gifts but then give gifts of donations in the name of the receiver to the charities that aligned with the values I wanted to share.
Nieces and nephews suddenly found themselves the proud adoptive parents of humpback whales off the east coast (which they bragged about to peers and teachers). Grown siblings dialogued with their children of the importance of school supplies to classrooms in Africa that were donated in their names. Aging parents connected to legacy with medical supplies donated to international clinics in their names. For others a self-made piece of art or a framed personal picture fit better. Somehow no one felt shortchanged or was left hungry for more and all seemed to connect to the gratitude of how much we already truly had. One year with my husband, living in student housing on pitifully little as an unemployed doctoral student, we had an exhilarating and elated Christmas sliding money under the doors of nearby strangers with only the message for them to pay it forward.
In each of these cases I found more joy, connection, and peace during the holiday season when I allowed my values of kindness, integrity and emotional openness to guide my choices, and by the time December ended I noticed I felt less tired and more refreshed.
Not too long ago we were finally lucky enough to have our first child, and while we usually plan on buying him a few toys we will be focusing instead on spending time together and looking him in the eyes while we bake, build forts, sing and dance silly, and share how much he is loved and matters to us. This year I’m excited about gifting funds to entrepreneurs in developing countries on behalf of family and friends and I’m looking forward to a Christmas when our family will gift our time at a nearby kitchen for those struggling financially and without housing. All these feel more in line with our values and will feed our souls more than racing through stores and websites ever has or will.
And so I invite you to consider for yourself – what truly matters to you? What brings your life meaning? What are the values that move you? And find ways to make your values your true north when making choices this Christmas.
You might just find yourself beautifully aligned with the spirit of the season.
Easter Yassa, Ph.D., is a Registered Psychologist with a private practice in Cochrane, AB, serving Cochrane, Calgary, Canmore, Airdrie, and the surrounding areas. You can learn more about Dr. Yassa and how she helps adults with issues like anxiety, trauma, self-esteem, and infertility at www.imatter2.com. Dr. Yassa can occasionally be seen chasing her toddler around local grocery stores and behaving awkwardly in public in order to protect someone’s confidentiality.