Monday, December 16, 2013

The Dichotomy of Christmas

Christmas time is a dichotomy between peace on earth, and stress in the trenches.  

Let me explain.  I will start with the 'Peace on Earth'.

Peace On Earth 

"Christmas bells, those christmas bells.
ringing through the land.
Bringing peace to all the world
and goodwill to man."
(Snoopys Christmas)

Snoopy sums it up well.   In this well loved song, Snoopy's life as a high flying fighter pilot looks certain to be over, as the Baron has him dead in his gun sights, ready to shoot him down.  As if by divine intervention, suddenly the Bells that herald Christmas peal out, spreading a message of peace and love.    Saved by the bell, the Baron wishes Snoopy a merry Christmas and they both fly on their jolly way, knowing the truce was simply a temporary lull in the war.

History has a number of examples of Christmas cease fires and temporary peace during hostilities while all concerned celebrate what Christmas means for them.  You can read more about the famous 1914  Christmas_truce .  The tragedy is that these truces are merely a temporary distraction.   It does highlight however, that Christmas is a time for peace, love and generosity, and despite how difficult our lives can be, or whatever tragedies we face, at least once during the year, all that can be put aside and the goodness of humanity can rise to the fore.

The spirit of Christmas manifests itself in a number of ways.  Whilst Snoopy's story is an example of this in its extreme,  it helps remind us that it is a time of year where we can see the best in people.  Generosity, giving and optimism abound.   We see more examples of the 'holiday cheer' in our communities, as people celebrate and share in these celebrations with others.

In communities across the world, we see people making meaningful connections with others, as over 2 billion humans celebrate what Christmas means to them.  It is a time to take a break, and to spend this time with family and friends.  It is a time to relax.  For those that way inclined, it is a spiritual time of thanks.

Christmas sees the traditions and music of Christmas evoking memories and emotions that are usually associated with family, fun, food, and good times.  Food brings people together and creates memories.  Feelings of goodwill thrive under these conditions.

Finally, to some degree, Christmas is a heralding of renewal as the new year comes closer, and the old one reaches its crescendo.

These are the ingredients of 'Peace on Earth'. 

On the one hand, we witness people full of good cheer, peace and good will for all humanity,  a time of year where we often see the best in people.  On the other hand, we also see the effects of stress on people.  Let me elaborate.

Stress in the trenches. 

These are my top 4 big 'Stresses in the Christmas Trenches'.   The dichotomy of what went before.

Money is one of the biggest stresses of the silly season.  Many of us have the overwhelming pressure of commercialism, and capitalists, all vying for our almighty dollar, encouraging us to spend more than we have, subtly painting a layer of guilt upon our souls.  You would think it is as if by some miracle, the expense of our 'gifts' to our loved ones somehow represent how much we love them.  Pfft - load of old Hogmanay, yet, we still fall for the commercialised trap each year.  Factor in the costs of buying gifts, food, travel (if you are meeting up with family outside your local area), the parties you give and go to, and all the associated 'bling' of Christmas, and money looms as a sword of financial Damocles.

Lets not forget the stress that befalls the person responsible for cooking on Christmas day.  It is usually the females of the family this pressure lands on ( I acknowledge this is an overgeneralisation, but for those of you reading this do ask yourself who does it in your family and home - wink wink, nudge nudge - you know what I mean).  If you have never had to do it, then you will not fully understand or appreciate just how time consuming the planning, preparation, cooking and clean up is.  Lets not forget the expense.  I acknowledge that oftentimes the 'blokes' (yes yes - a further generalisation) do the obligatory dishes - but it is at this point that I would like to make it clear - it is a token gesture at best.  Suffice to say - whilst the food is undoubtedly one of the best parts of Christmas - it is a truckload of work to pull it together and lives in its own category of stress.

Gift buying.   I have already eluded to the expense, but for those of us less organised than our more enlightened gift buyers, many leave this until the last week or so before Christmas.  There is nothing relaxing or euphoric about crowded shopping malls full of frantic last minute shoppers.  Of course, we always say 'next year I will be more organised'.  Sure.  (insert another wink wink, nudge nudge)

Families.  This can go both ways.  Catching up with families is one of the lovely things about Christmas, but it is not stress free.  Add blended families into the mix.  By blended I mean all the kinds of blends you can think of - from in laws, out laws, strange 'hanger onners' and that crazy nut that each family has.   It is rare that everyone gets along like a fuzz on a peach - although it usually starts out well.  We all have friends who have to schedule in family so that one side doesn't have to interact with another.  A cup of yule tide stress anyone?   (NB:  I am not referring to anyone in my family - they are all perfect and lovely....wink wink, nudge nudge)

Now, can you see the dichotomy in the stresses alone?  Look closely - what do those stresses also have in common with the niceties of Christmas?   They are also some of the highlights and joys - gifts, food and family - not necessarily in that order (unless you are Squirt).

I would love to be the font of all knowledge at this point and write endless lists of advice to assist you in navigating the perils of the stresses of Christmas.  With things like,  devise a budget, write lists, live within your means, set a spending limit, exercise restraint .... but actually, you and I both know these things already.  Instead I will leave you with this challenge because it is this that I believe has the power to make the world a better place.

My Challenge to you personally...
Do what you can to minimise the stresses - but do remember this.  You are only human, and the world will not end if you are a last minute shopper, or you burn the pork roast.  Just be kind to yourself.  Hold onto the feelings the evoke 'peace on earth'.  They are your saviour and will allow you to survive the silliest of seasons.

My Challenge for you, your family and until next Christmas ...
Try and keep the goodwill, the peace, the love for your fellow human and the ability to be kind and generous of spirit,  for the whole year.  Imagine our world if we did just that for the whole year, as opposed to implementing a 'temporary ceasefire in hostilities' for just that time.

Finally dear reader, merry christmas to you and yours, may the dichotomy not cause you too much grief.

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