The Christmas Blues

by James Rudy Gray

The Christmas season is a unique time of year. In America, it is a commercial bonanza. It is the time of year when many retailers will either make a profit or post a loss for the entire year. Stephen Nissenbaum, author of The Battle for Christmas, has noted, "Christmas has always been an event that has bothered people. They have complained about its commercialism for 150 years."

There are so many things that happen during the Christmas season that have nothing to do with New Testament faith at all. There are other things that are innocent and there are some things that are good. Christian parents often struggle with how to deal with the "Santa Claus" question. How do you counsel sincere parents who want to do the right thing?

While the Christmas season is well engrained in American culture, it can serve as a great opportunity to teach children the difference between fantasy and fact. In our home, we raised our daughters to believe the Bible is true and Jesus is real. By the same token, we were careful to explain to them that Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy were all fictional—games people played.

We gave gifts and got up early on Christmas morning. But our most precious time was Christmas Eve when we attended church services, had a special family meal, read the Christmas story, prayed, sometimes had a family Christmas play, opened a couple of gifts, played a game, watched a movie, and generally just spent time together.

Parents can allow their children to enjoy all the "extras" associated with the Christmas season without deliberately misleading them. I believe it is important for children who receive gifts to understand that they come from people who love them rather than from some mythical creature that rewards them for good behavior. It is important that children see their parents as people who do their best to be honest and truthful people. When that foundation is laid early in a child's life, it can have enormous benefits and blessings later in that child's life.

George Barna conducted a survey in 1996 and discovered that for 44 percent of Americans, the highest value of Christmas was spending time with family, while 37 percent said it was honoring Christ's birthday. Christmas can be a great time for families to build truly Christian traditions.

The Christmas season is also a time of year when many people become depressed. For some, it is a painfully lonely and empty time. The season often reminds them of earlier times in their lives when some trauma, rejection, or hurt touched them. When persons are depressed at Christmas, what can counselors do to help? Listen to them. Connect with them. Seek to understand what they are feeling and why they are feeling that way. Help them to create new ways of thinking that can enable them to break free of painful past memories and motivate them to start fresh, new memory-building activities. 

Sometimes, even the songs, smells, decorations, etc., of the season are keys that unlock painful memories. A person may notice he is feeling depressed and not know why. As counselors, we cannot simply and superficially dismiss such feelings as "seasonal." Depressive feelings may occur at Christmas, but we must help a counselee to identify the feelings and seek answers to the questions of why, why now, etc. It may often be the case that depression during the Christmas season can be traced to anger that has been turned inward. The season simply triggers what has been there all along. 

If God presents us with an opportunity to counsel someone during the Christmas season, we should view that as an opportunity to do a good work that He has prepared for us (Eph. 2:10).

"Merry Christmas" can be more than just a season greeting. It can come to mean a change in life for someone in emotional distress.

James Rudy Gray is certified as a professional counselor by the National Board for Certified Counselors, and is a member of the American Association of Christian Counselors. He pastors Utica Baptist Church in Seneca, S.C.

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