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Creating meaning at Christmas
Christmas means different things to different people:
- Religious or spiritual meanings
- A time of rebirth and reinvention
- Summer or winter solstice
- Time with family or friends
- Connection with others
- Presents & shopping
- A special meal
- Time for reflection
- Helping others, goodwill to all
- Holiday, rest
Unfortunately, there are some not so happy meanings for Christmas as well … and that’s why this site exists. For many people, Christmas means loneliness, isolation, hunger, crisis, exclusion, stigma, poverty, debt, tragic memories and reminders of difference.
Christmas is not the only celebration in town: most cultures have some kind of celebration at this time of year:
- Bodhi Day – Buddhism
- Hanukah – Judaism
- Id al-Adha & the Hajj – Islam (dates vary with the lunar calendar)
- Day of the Return of the Wandering Goddess – Kemetic Orthodoxy
- Yule – Wiccans and Neopagans
- Zartusht-no-diso – Zoroastrians
Make your own meaning
You don’t have to take the meaning for your Christmas from anyone else.
You can create your own personal meaning.
Make this Christmas be about what’s important to you.
What would you like Christmas to mean to you?
What can you do to reinforce the meaning that you want and need?
To me, Christmas is a time for spending with my nearest and dearest and for overtly expressing the love and care that can sometimes get missed during the rest of the year. These are some ideas that reinforce my personal meaning of Christmas:
- Practicing random acts of kindness (see section below)
- Giving thoughtful gifts rather than expensive gifts
- Giving in meaningful ways to people I don’t know – like developing these webpages, or volunteering
More about Random Acts of Kindness
Random acts of kindness are an idea that has been around for a long time – and I think it’s particularly lovely to practice around this time year.
Random acts of kindness involve doing something kind for another person without prompting and with no expectation of anything in return. Check out the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation: they are a not-for-profit group that promotes this idea all over the world.
Some ideas from the foundation website:
- Hold the door open for someone
- Help someone for free
- Give a compliment to a stranger
- Help someone with the bins or garden
- Help a child learn
- Write a letter to someone who made a difference in your life
- Read to a child
- Visit an animal shelter
- Let someone go in front of you in the queue at the shops
- Pick up rubbish
- Give someone flowers
- Donate blood
- Hug someone
- Thank the tram or bus driver
- Bake someone a cake
- Make someone laugh
Some Random Acts of Kindness stories from the foundation:
Secret Santa Last Christmas, my mom started a wave of secret santas. A lot of poor people in our area were using layaway to get their Christmas gifts for their kids. One day my mom walked into the store and asked for the account of a layaway of just toys. Then she paid the balance and left without leaving her name. She did this a few more times at other stores. Apparently someone she paid for told a local paper, who published a short article about a petite blond santa making Christmas happen for a bunch of families. It was so cool that my mom did that, and I hope that some day I can be as spontaneously kind as her.
Unexpected Post-it Notes My friend and I really wanted to do something nice for people so we got post-it notes, wrote quotes on them and drove around the city putting them on windshields of cars! People’s reactions were priceless. Something so easy to do, and something that makes you feel so great about yourself!
Giving to others not only makes the world a better place, but can us to feel good as well. No matter who you are, there is always some way you can volunteer. Just search on google for volunteer opportunities in your own city.
Meaning and Memories
Christmas can sometimes bring up difficult and painful memories from our past. This is a common experience for many people.
If this is something that happens to you most years, then the best advice I can give is to get some good quality counselling or support in the new year. Problems suppressed do not go away, and there are some wonderful peer workers and counsellors out there that can support you to find more peace with your memories.
But what about right now? In order to feel somewhat better about difficult memories, we need to process those emotions in different ways. These are a few ideas that may be helpful…
Some practical strategies for making meaning over the Christmas period
Journalling Writing in a private journal can be a powerful way to express difficult emotions and thoughts. Research has shown that journaling can definitely improve our mood.
Creative arts and crafts Doing something creative can help to express difficult feelings in ways that feels safer than language. Plus it can be really fulfilling. If you don’t currently do any arts or crafts, why not try learning something new? Learning is also a great way to boost your self-esteem.
Memory Holder Put the difficult memories aside for later, for when you feel stronger. Get an old shoebox or similar. Decorate the box. Every time you have a difficult memory or feeling, write it down on a small slip of paper, put it in the box then close the lid. This is a symbolic way of acknowledging the difficult memories (which helps with your emotions), while also acknowledging that perhaps you don’t yet feel ready to talk about them just yet.
Call for help Phone a friend or family member, or phone a helpline.
Be kind to yourself
The most important action you can take with regard to difficult memories is to be kind to yourself. Seriously. I hope you can use this Christmas season to give yourself the gift of self-love, or at the very least, self-respect. Every human being deserves this, including you.