‘Christmas is not a time or a season but a state of mind’.  The words of US President Calvin Coolidge.  What state of mind does it elicit in you?

Every year we’re surrounded by advertising images of an idealized Christmas that may be impossible to live up to.  Not surprising perhaps that many people have a sneaking feeling that everyone else will be having a more magical time than they are.

On top of that there may be further reasons why Christmas falls short of what we’d like.  For instance, there may be memories of positively horrible past Christmases; the season may be associated with death; there may be domestic abuse in the home; we may be lonely; there may be thoughts of bereavement or the loss of a treasured relationship; or serious health issues may be around.  Or maybe there’s nothing particularly wrong – just the effects of being thrown together with our own family members for much longer than usual.  (See my blog: www.guildfordtherapy.co.uk/2017/08/01/glowing-summer-holiday/).

A baby

If Christmas isn’t such a great time, three famous stories attached to it may help a bit.  There’s obviously the Christmas story of the baby in the manger.  Whatever our religious beliefs or lack of them, it may be possible to see that the story contains a powerful message of hope.  A stinking, unhygienic stable – so far from the Christmas card tableaux – is the cradle for new life, new beginnings, new growth and redemption.

A giver

Then there’s the other Christmas icon, Santa Claus.  The figure who stands behind him – St Nicholas of Myra – was a real person who lived in what’s now Turkey at the turn of the third and fourth centuries.  Again there’s an earthier dimension to the story:  tradition has it that he punched someone he didn’t agree with in the face at the Council of Nicaea.  Be that as it may, he also had a reputation (very possibly true according to recent research) of being a secret gift giver.  He quietly provided a big marriage dowry for three impoverished girls who otherwise faced a future of prostitution.  This time it’s a story of hope when there seemed to be none.

A miser

Lastly there’s Scrooge.  Dickens’s embodiment of miserliness and misanthropy is taken on three time-travelling journeys by Ghosts of Christmas.  The first journey is into his past to reveal his own painful childhood.  The second is in the present but showing him the impact he has on others.  The third is into his future to show what may happen if he continues on his present course.  (The story’s exploration of past, present and future relationships is almost a narrative of psychotherapy).  Scrooge, as we know, ends the novel a very different person.  So now we’re dealing with a story of transformation.

Familiar tales, I know.  But they all carry a fundamental truth.  Life can change.  Things don’t always have to be the way they are now.