I received an email from our manager this week asking all staff to write a short message to send out to our patients on the Christmas bulletin or whatever it’s called. And although that sounds like such a simple task that shouldn’t require much thought at all, I really struggled with what to write. And here I am reflecting on it.
The first thing that came to mind was, ‘Wishing you and your family a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year’. But I didn’t want to write that and I didn’t know why. It would be the easiest thing to write because I don’t even have to think about it. The words come to me so automatically. That’s it. Job done. But the more I thought about it, the more I didn’t like it. Here I go again, overthinking something so simple… but that phrase just made me uncomfortable. It felt disingenuous. I started getting frustrated with myself for not just getting it over with and berating myself for this over-thinking idiocy.
But I figured it out. “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year”… is a phrase which I feel is like saying ‘BE HAPPY’ in capital letters followed by lots of exclamation marks. It’s implied that Christmas is a happy time of the year and there’s a societal expectation to feel happy and be merry… but it doesn’t leave room for much else. What if Christmas isn’t a happy time for people? In fact it can be very stressful and sometimes depressing. It can be a real financial burden. And although the phrase is well-meaning, I feel like it can be incredibly isolating. Like if you’re going through a really difficult time in your life and all you hear is phrases akin to ‘be happy!!!’ then how do you reach out to people? How do you admit to others that you’re struggling or unhappy without fear of bringing down that happy vibe.
Okay so I guess I really am over-thinking it because if I think about it even more, most holidays are about being ‘happy’- birthdays, Halloween, Father’s day, Mother’s day, Valentine’s day, Easter. So why am I placing so much emphasis on Christmas?
The truth is, I’m not religious. I do not subscribe to organised religion. But despite this, I still associate Christmas with the birth of Jesus Christ- how he was the ultimate gift from God, himself born in the flesh, dying for our sins. I always thought that Christmas was a celebration of Jesus and his birth, and therefore as I understood it, I expected Christmas to be a much more sacred and meaningful holiday. I expected Christmas to be a time where people exhibit virtuous Christ like behaviours- where people might give up their time and their hearts to listen to those who are feeling down, or give food and resources to those in need, or perhaps teach their children about these things.
But from where I’m standing, the meaning of Christmas and what it represents has long departed from the Christian intention. It is a secular holiday that is a time for gross consumerism, with Santa being its primary mascot. What children know of Christmas is that it is a time for receiving presents and hearing Mariah Carey and Michael Buble being overplayed on the radio.
And for the adults- Christmas is a time for buying presents, getting a day off work or earning time and a half plus a day in lieu, being with family, and thinking long and hard about whether they can be bothered going to the Boxing day sales on the 26th.
Perhaps this is an over-exaggeration, but I’m simply reporting what I see.
And perhaps there is nothing wrong with this. After all, gross consumerism equals high volume sales and therefore a significant prop-up of the economy which is good for everyone right?
As for the Christmas message or greeting- I can’t really suggest an appropriate alternative. But I guess all I’m trying to say is that we could be more mindful in our conversations that Christmas isn’t always a happy time, that people don’t necessarily get what they want and that people don’t necessarily have plans to gather or go on holiday.