• Laura Lin

Holidays Aren't Always Happy Days!

Today, as I was running my errands, I passed a funeral in progress and was reminded of the fact that the holidays are not always a joyous season.

It was once said that the holidays brought forth an increase of suicides, but the National Center for Health Statistics has debunked this. Their studies found that suicide rates are actually lower at this time of year, but that does not mean the feelings of loneliness and stress dissipate. Factors such as death, divorce, layoffs, and commercialism can create a negative response to the holidays and cause even the jolliest among us to feel the strain of a deadline.

Starting in November and running well into the New Year, the tradition of being surrounded with friends and family still thrives in many cultures. Whether it’s a gathering of friends or a celebration for two, it is expected that no one should be alone during the holidays, and yet people are. While the stores and roadways become increasingly crowded at this time, it is important that we look past our own itinerary to see the needs of others as well.

Photo by Laura Lin

The elderly man standing in the checkout line may be thinking of the wife he laid to rest earlier in the year. The couple pushing the nearly empty buggy with two little children in tow and one on the way may be wondering what necessities they can skip on as he was laid off work last week. The young girl sitting alone in the restaurant may be thinking about her husband who is half a world away, serving his country, leaving both of them without family for the holidays.

Loss of a loved one, be it to death, a move, or divorce, is felt more intensely this time of year, especially if it is the first holiday season. New traditions often arise in such instances that may add to the feeling of loss and disconnection. Traditions are what connect us to the past and help shape our identity. Though time will make the change easier, the loss may still be felt and thus the holidays become a season of remembrance instead of joy.

I remember when my parents and I were stationed overseas, they opened our home to a few service people so that they could have a bit of belonging during the holiday. This is common practice in the military, and one that I would follow later at my husband’s overseas duty station. Today, I take a little extra time with my customers who feel the need to tell me a story about “the good ol’ days” or talk about the memory of one who is departed. The most meaningful gift isn’t material items but time. Even in today’s hectic society, I find a few seconds of kindness can always be found.

In addition to highlighting loneliness, the holiday season comes with some extra stress, especially in the financial department. On a budget already stretched thin, the holidays seem to be a near-impossible event to financially manage. Money is spent on extra food for social gatherings and gifts, and often heating and electric bills increase. If you have little ones, there is the pressure to supply the magic of Christmas, making it feel more like a labor than love. Sadly, this is also a time of year when some businesses conduct layoffs and cut hours, leaving families struggling to meet basic needs while also accommodating holiday obligations. It is easy to feel the squeeze and become overwhelmed.

Photo by Laura Lin

Even in my tightest of times, I have found a way to give. Whether it’s donating canned goods at a collection spot or slipping a few dollars into the bell ringer’s bucket, I share what I have because I’ve been the person who didn’t know how I was going to put food on the table, much less gifts under the tree. One nice thing about the holidays is that people are generally more giving. Organizations such as Shop with a Cop and Toys-for-Tots come forward to ensure that children can experience the magic of Christmas when their family may not be in a position to do so.

On and off over the years, my family has adopted an angel from the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree.

We do what we can with what we have because there is always somebody worse off than you. A few pennies in the red bucket goes a long way for a family that has no food at all. When it is said that, “no gift is too small,” it is truly meant. Having been a recipient of charitable organizations and acts of kindness at various times in my life, I can genuinely say it is very much appreciated.

Gifts are material items, but they are also an extension of one’s thoughts and love. For my family, it is the one time of year that we don’t have to make an excuse to buy something; it is the chance to do a little spoiling. I grew up hearing stories about how my parents would receive some fruit, maybe new shoes, and a toy for Christmas day. What I love about these stories is that they not only remember what they received, but the stories still bring joy. It is not about the quantity and expense of a gift, but the context in which it is given. Sadly, many see this as a time of year to demonstrate their wealth, often going in debt for the holiday on items that will be cast aside or put away and forgotten in a few days.

Photo by Laura Lin

Those that live by simpler means may find that the pressure to keep up with societal expectations falls primarily on their children as their friends ask for a detailed list of gifts and pictures are posted on social media platforms. Christmas parties that incorporate a gift exchange only add to the burden. When one barely has the means to get gifts for their children and are now required to provide for another child or even an entire classroom, it can quickly heighten the stress.

It is easy to assume that everybody lives as you do, and with equivalent financial means, however, even if they want to participate and help, sometimes it just isn’t possible. To help ease the pressure, try having a party without a gift exchange or do crafts instead. Growing families and social gatherings can incorporate a name drawing or white elephant exchange to ease the financial burden or forgo exchanging gifts altogether. Traditions are wonderful and gifts are nice, but flexibility and consideration are necessary if one desires to keep the burden of stress low.

As the hustle and bustle of the stores increase around this time, it is important that we do not forget that every person is a human being with a story. Slow down just a little bit, listen, and be kind. You may be surprised by what you discover. It is also important that we don’t forget those that are isolated and alone for various reasons or those that are in nursing homes, hospitals, prisons, and orphanages. These individuals are removed from family, friends, and traditions. Something as simple as a card or lap blanket goes a long way in letting them know that they are not forgotten.

Photo by Laura Lin

As the holidays are primarily about giving and thinking of others, what better way to move beyond your own stress and worries than exhibiting a bit of compassion and understanding? Help unload a cart, give a genuine smile, and put some change in the bucket; these small acts may warm your heart as much as the recipient's.

If you have ways to ease the strain and loneliness of the holidays or a story of how an act of kindness changed your holiday, please share in the comments below as you never know how it may inspire others to reach out to those hurting and in need.