Give the gift of understanding this Christmas

Understand that not everyone enjoys Christmas.

Christmas is most commonly promoted as a time of great joy, family and celebration. But for many people, it is the most difficult time of year. Many people, for many different reasons, find themselves feeling very lonely at Christmas, sad at the year that has been, feeling like they are missing out because they are not having the happy Christmas that everyone is “supposed” to have, or despairing because they can’t provide gifts or a Christmas feast for their loved ones. The messaging around Christmas sets up high expectations which not everyone will meet, which adds to their sense of distress at this time.

This in no way means that, if you do enjoy Christmas, you can’t continue to do so, of course you can! Just try to be aware of the difficulties some people are facing. Accept differing views about the festive season. Be mindful of who you share your excitement with and how you share it. If someone obviously shares your love of Christmas, go right ahead. But if you notice that someone is not very responsive to your holiday plans, maybe try to use language that covers a wider range of experiences. For instance, instead of asking “Are you looking forward to catching up with all your family at Christmas?”, say something like, “Do you think you’ll have a nice quiet Christmas, or will it be busy?”

Be mindful too, when people respond angrily or in frustration, they may be struggling with the stress or anxiety as Christmas gets closer, especially in commonly hectic situations like shopping centres and crowded city streets. It is never pleasant to be verbally abused, but if it does happen to you, it may help to recognize that the person may be having a very difficult time, and their anger is actually a response to fear or sadness.

Understand that not everyone can afford the big “Santa” gift

How do you explain to a 6 year old why Santa gave your 6 year old’s friend down the road the newest gaming console and a trampoline, but gave you a beach towel and some clothes? Children in families who are struggling financially, already miss out on more than other children, it is heartbreaking to think about them feeling that even Santa doesn’t “like” them as much! There is nothing wrong with maintaining the joy and excitement of Santa at Christmas, but the emphasis and credit given to “Santa” can actually create heartbreak and further distress for some people. An alternative idea could be for parents/caregivers to give the biggest or most exciting present, and Santa can give another gift. While that doesn’t change the gift giving ability of other families, it is much easier for them to explain to their children that they can’t afford to buy the bigger, more expensive gifts, than to explain why Santa would give better gifts to other kids.

Really, these points are just about trying not to add to other people’s distress. If you can actually improve their day, even better! This year, especially, let’s all spread a bit of understanding and kindness.