• The weight of expectation to have the absolute best time of our lives, on what is after all, just another day, can be crushing. (Moment RF/Getty Images)Source: Moment RF/Getty Images
Comment: Our consumerist culture tells us that if we don’t have the perfect gifts, the happiest Hallmark moments and the most loving and sane family, we fail at Christmas and life. Jill Stark wants everyone to just calm down.
By
Jill Stark

15 Dec 2016 - 11:22 AM  UPDATED 15 Dec 2016 - 11:49 AM

We need to talk about Christmas. It’s a charade.

There are some highlights: re-runs of Home Alone, Mariah Carey’s impossibly catchy festive tunes, and the chance to dress your cat up in novelty reindeer outfits (that may be just me).

But in recent years, the festive season has become a frenzied scramble to the finish line that leaves many of us physically and emotionally spent, and wondering what the point is of all this enforced frivolity.

The weight of expectation to have the absolute best time of our lives, on what is after all, just another day, can be crushing.

"Not pictured is the drunk uncle making racist jokes as he carves the glazed ham, your on-the-brink-of-divorce parents exchanging muttered insults..."

Everybody wants to know “what are you doing for the holidays”, while we’re bombarded with soft-focus images of handsome families laden with extravagant presents having the kind of Christmas last seen on a 1950s greeting card.

Not pictured is the drunk uncle making racist jokes as he carves the glazed ham, your on-the-brink-of-divorce parents exchanging muttered insults, or the socially awkward cousin silently weeping in the bathroom because Nana just asked for the third time why she’s 40 and still doesn’t’ have a husband.

And yet our rampant consumerist culture continues to perpetuate the notion that if we don’t have the perfect gifts, the happiest moments and the most loving and sane family, we are failing at life.

Can we all just calm down and take a reality check? The average person is never going to live up these impossible ideals and we’ll only make ourselves miserable trying.

"I quit Christmas": Why I'm packing away the reindeer earrings
For one-time self-described Christmas "tragic" Elizabeth Sutherland, December 25 is now just another day of the year, and she's okay with that.

The more serious side to this pantomime is it further marginalises those who are already struggling, by propagating the myth that the festive season should be a time of perpetual bliss and relaxation.

It’s an uncomfortable truth that Christmas is the worst time of year for many who are vulnerable or socially isolated, including the elderly, the homeless, people who are grieving, LGBTI youth, the financially disadvantaged, and those with mental health or substance abuse problems.

It would be easy to cry “Christmas Grinch” when these harsh realities are pointed out, but we could all benefit from taking the pressure off and being a bit more honest about the challenges this time of year poses.

The perception – heightened by the curated theatre of social media – that everyone is outrageously happy in their festive togetherness, can increase feelings of loneliness and exacerbate depression and anxiety at a time when already stretched mental health services are less freely available.

It’s also the most common time for relationship breakdowns and family violence as alcohol abuse and financial stress spike.

It would be easy to cry “Christmas Grinch” when these harsh realities are pointed out, but we could all benefit from taking the pressure off and being a bit more honest about the challenges this time of year poses.

We’re only setting ourselves up to fail if we expect to tie up the year in a neat bow and start afresh, as if we leave our baggage behind the moment the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve.

Instead, it’s worth focusing on how we can stay well and connected during the festive period, and what we might do to support those who are less fortunate.

The first step is managing expectations and accepting that Christmas Day may be difficult or at least not the picture-postcard we set it up to be. Drinking less and trying to fit in some exercise can also help reduce stress.

Reaching out to an elderly neighbor who lives alone, or volunteering at one of the many charities who need support over the holiday period are good ways to feel more connected.

Most importantly, we can start to have conversations with those around us and realise that it’s okay to admit that this time of year can be hard.

Rather than getting lost in crippling FOMO on Facebook, we’d be better comparing ourselves to the countless people who feel exactly the same as we do but are just waiting to be asked. 

Love this author? Follow Jill Stark on Facebook and Twitter.

Christmas isn’t the only holiday Australians will celebrate this December
Christmas is just one of many festivals people are celebrating this holiday season.
10 Christmas gifts with soul that'll make you feel good about giving
Avoid buying extra junk for your loved ones and opt for Christmas Gifts with the feel-good factor.
Melbourne Christmas parade ditches Santa for drag queens
Step aside, Santa! Drag queens are the main attraction at this year’s Chapel Street Christmas Parade.