Recovering from the Yuletide season can feel like a rather dark and lonely road, especially now that all the bright lights and cheery music are gone.
Psych Central notes that feeling grim in the wake of Christmas is hardly usual. “Some studies show as many as 25 percent of Americans suffer from low-grade to full-blown depression after the holidays. The hype and excitement and, yes, expectation, for jolliness buoy up many in the buildup to the Big Day.
“But then expectations hit reality. Relatives aren’t always kind. Gifts aren’t given and received in the spirit intended. The fantasy that maybe this year will be different is dashed yet again. It’s hard for even the most resilient not to feel a letdown.”
Worse yet is when it finally hits us that we only have a New Year’s Eve party planned, and then it’s a big, fat month or two of nothing but bad weather and catching up on all the work awaiting us.
Recovering from Christmas, however, can be complicated for many reasons.
The Troubled Season and Afterward
This season is one of the few where the cultural expectation to spend time with family is intense, and that can lead to serious problems.
For some, this means being trapped in close quarters with an abusive family member or caught in a toxic family dynamic for several days. Old wounds end up being torn open and bitter histories resurrected. Believing you’ve escaped the past and then feeling knocked back to square one is brutal. It can make you feel hopeless about the future and your abilities to break free again. Anyone in this situation is probably in desperate need of loving affirmation and a few weeks to recover.
For others who avoid family gathers for just those reasons, you may find yourself bombarded by manically happy families in holiday films and then land-blasted by everyone else’s cheery family pictures and romantic couple photos on social media or shared in person.
Everyone seems to ask if you’re going home for the holidays. Once Christmas is finally past, everyone’s asking about how the merriest day on earth was for you. Most expect the answer to be cheery. Constantly explaining (or avoiding explaining) can be exhausting.
Even for those with healthier home dynamics, this can still be a difficult season.
Older parents or grandparents are statistically far more likely to experience declining health or pass away in the winter, often for simple reasons like influenza and pneumonia or even poorer nutrition thanks to weather that makes getting to the grocery store a challenge.
For still others, terminally ill family members or friends may make every attempt to hold on through the holidays “to spare loved ones,” but what happens after the first of the year? No matter what the good reasons were at the time, they can’t soften the blow of loss when it finally arrives.
Others’ carefully manicured, rosy glow can be especially painful when held in sharp contrast to our own flawed relationships and lost loved ones.
Grieving the Ghost of Christmas Past
With these kinds of complications and a dozen more variations, it’s hardly any surprise people often feel down after Christmas or New Year’s Day has passed.
“Hopelessness has all kinds of talons that destroy our life—despair, depression, discouragement, or manipulation,” Gary Wilkerson points out in a podcast on combatting bleak feelings.
Perhaps it should be no surprise then that the holiday most meant to celebrate the hope that Christ offers us and the world should come so bitterly under attack by hopelessness. When Christmas morning rolls over into history and our heart falls, we must retell ourselves that our hope in redemption, restoration, true peace on earth is not in vain. We’re still waiting for all the good promises to be fulfilled when Christ comes again.
“This Christmas, we have the chance to not only overcome the chaos and confusion of the holidays and find the substance underneath the shadows,” Matt Chandler commented in The Christian Post article about Christmas blues. "We also have the chance to show the world around us what that true substance is."
The little clutch of sadness that grips our chest after the holidays isn’t entirely bad.
It’s grief for a world that’s still wracked by broken relationships and loss. It’s longing for the perfect place of joy that we catch glimpses of in the lights and singing and excitement. It’s the reminder that we’re still waiting for something better.
A bittersweet feeling after Christmas has passed is perfectly normal. If it grows into a gloomy depression, though, that’s cause for concern.
“Hopelessness is borne out of an incorrect view of God,” Gary Wilkerson explains, “and that’s where Satan comes to kill and destroy our view of God being good and for us. God being powerful, being available, being present to us at all times and even being with us in the storm when the storms don’t cease.”
Christ will make things right…one day. Until then, we must wait and not lose hope.
Hygge and Community Over Commercialization
Perhaps it’s time to embrace the idea of hygge, and not the hyper-commercialized nonsense that’s recently exploded over the internet in an aggressive attempt to sell you “hygge socks” for 45 dollars.
A Scandinavian concept, hygge is defined in the Lexico dictionary as “A quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being…” Danish comedian Sofie Hagen describes her idea of hygge as being able to relax and enjoy others’ company. “Hygge, to me, has never been something you could buy.”
In the wake of Christmas, particularly how it’s marketed in modern America, we can most certainly use a peace and contentment that money cannot buy; so here are a few ways we can recover.
First, get some alone time and give thanks for blessings. Yes, Thanksgiving has long since passed, but we can’t never say thanks enough for all the good things God has given us.
Second, get back into community. Often the holidays derail Bible studies or even regular church attendance, and if we’re tired and stressed, this can be a double whammy. Even scheduling a coffee date with someone to talk and pray together can be a huge help.
Just don’t infect anyone if you picked up a cold over the holidays. Giving the gift of post-Christmas disease vectors is generally not appreciated.
Third, schedule something to look forward to in the next week or two. Right now, you’re probably resting, maybe fending off illness thanks to the germ-fest that is airports these days. Still, plan something fun, whether it’s a hike, a date with your spouse to a favorite restaurant or a visit to a good friend. Refreshing relationships that have been put on hold for travel and event planning is vital.
Throughout everything, we must remind ourselves that the winter days may be long and dark, but we’re moving forward, toward heaven and eternal peace on earth.