The Swiss have a word for it: Weihnachtscholer; psychiatrists have a word for it too: Post-Christmas Traumatic Syndrome. Most people just call it the Christmas Blues, a feeling of sadness that overcomes those for whom the holiday period is a time of dysfunction instead of joy.
It must not be thought that this ailment affects only jaded moderns. An American woman’s diary from 1858 notes: “As these days come round our hearts are made Sad; we miss our loved Mother, now gone to her rest.” On Christmas Eve 1872 a widow wrote “These days are sad indeed to me. I try to conceal my feelings for the sake of those I am with.” On Christmas Day she wrote: “There many sad hearts, as well as merry ones.” In the 1901 Norwegian short story “Before the Candles Go Out” a couple struggles to be happier and to see the holiday through the eyes of their child but the wife says of her melancholy: “Do I need to tell you all over again that there’s something called Christmas Eve memories?”
Here are some reasons that have been proposed recently for the phenomenon of the Christmas Blues:
- loss of a loved one through death, relocation or broken relationship
- resentment of the commercialism of the season
- a sense of not belonging stemming from membership in a religion, such as Judaism, that does not celebrate Christmas
- anger over not being able to afford gifts for one’s family
- anger at seasonally-induced weight gain or increase in indebtedness
- homelessness, friendlessness or alienation from family or ethnic group
- guilt at not being as happy as the ideal family depicted on television
- spouse saturation syndrome: too much of one’s mate underfoot
- separation at holiday-times from one’s lover who is married to someone else
Popular music, quick to spot trends, has cashed in on the sentiment with a plethora of songs emphasizing Yule-tide depression led by Elvis Presley’s 1957 hit “Blue Christmas.” One might add “What Do the Lonely Do at Christmas?” by The Emotions, “Christmas Eve Can Kill You” by The Everly Brothers and “Who Took The Merry Out Of Christmas?” by The Staple Singers.
Though Christmas is not a time of increased suicide (in fact for women suicide declines in December and January) doctors do report a rush of depressed patients after the holidays. A number of churches hold “Blue Christmas” services to assure the faithful that God continues to be present even in the midst of sadness.