I don’t like Christmas. In fact, I unashamedly harbor a deep sense of mistrust when it comes to this holiday. For starters, every year I find myself wondering why, when we’re in the thick of a South African summer, people insist on pretending it’s snowing (Pine trees? Santa hats? Are you insane?!). Then there’s the music, the rampant materialism, the fruitcake everyone insists you eat…I could go on. However, these annoyances are merely surface issues. Other holidays that I find just as commercial, pale in comparison to the horror I feel when Christmas approaches. And the reason for this is quite simple: some family relationships terrify me.
Don’t get me wrong, I know there are people who legitimately have their nonsense sorted out and love spending the holidays with family and friends. But for some, Christmas is mainly a difficult time to navigate strained and sometimes even volatile relationships. Old wounds resurface, people get into fights or spiral into depression. Suicide rates peak.
Ironically, when messages of generosity and connectedness get blasted out over every radio station and TV commercial, it accentuates our feelings of isolation. Christmas is about belonging and, quite frankly, many don’t feel like they do. People who don’t talk to each other all year suddenly have to pretend to be a family. Or present a false version of themselves to be accepted. Or cover-up that they’ve had a tough time recently so as not to spoil the cheer.
A lot about Christmas seems to be about pretending and hiding ourselves under what we think is expected of us in a quest to be acceptable. But perhaps the solution for those of us facing the holidays with no small sense of dread is to look elsewhere for validation. Brenè Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, puts it elegantly when she says:
“The truth is: Belonging starts with self-acceptance. Your level of belonging can never be greater than your level of self-acceptance, because believing that you’re enough is what gives you the courage to be authentic, vulnerable and imperfect.”
What I’ve taken from this is to cultivate a sense of worthiness within me and to see it as something inherent, and not as a thing that can be given or taken away. I’m worthy and I belong because I’m human. It’s not dependent on any external validation, and so it’s not threatened by the actions of others. Doing this has opened my eyes to seeing that a lot of the so-called ‘rejection’ I previously experienced was really just a projection of my own sense of unworthiness. There are so many things that fall through the cracks when we try to talk to each other with our walls up. Perhaps, if we can learn to take a step back this holiday and focus on being a little more compassionate and forgiving towards ourselves, we’ll be able to give the same kind of treatment towards others. And isn’t that what Christmas is really all about?
by Esther Hamman
For more resources on dealing with difficult situations over the Christmas holidays, we recommend checking out Andy Stanley’s podcast on the subject here. Also available on itunes.