My Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The leaves have changed color, the temperature has dropped, the sniffles have started, and the lawns of neighbors are filled with the festive decorations of the holiday du jour. For many people, this is their favorite time of year. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, and Valentine’s Day. One after another, these holidays come forward in the winter that bring many people together . . . yet why is it that people are more depressed during the holidays?
Statistics show that while December is a lower month for suicides, right after Christmas and into February there is a 40% uptick according to healthline.com. While much of this can be attributed to unrealistic expectations, financial pressures, and too many commitments causing stress at holiday time (medicine.net), the Orthodox perspective sees another answer to this depression.
We see an unabashed focus on the self during this period. My costume for Halloween, my family relationships for Thanksgiving, my gifts for Christmas, my resolutions for New Year, and my love-life for Valentine’s day. We set up idyllic, Hollywood expectations for each of these events and with each passing year, the exuberance of childhood fades into a dull ache of longing. But why?
The Orthodox perspective would see it as an unhealthy fascination with personal reflection of the wrong variety. Instead of looking at me, why am I not looking to God? Instead of thinking about costumes on Halloween, why am I not learning about the Saints? Instead of thinking about the dysfunctions in my family (all families have them), why am I not thinking of being grateful to God for His rich mercy? Instead of pining for a material gift, why am I not rejoicing with the angels at the birth of our Lord and King? Instead of worrying about resolutions I might not keep, such as losing weight or learning Spanish, why do I not commit myself to Church, to praying daily with my family, or keeping the fast Holy? Instead of worrying about who I am to be with or why my romantic life is not like in a movie, why do I not commit myself to making my relationship better or to trusting in God to find the right match for me that will bring me closer to His kingdom?
We have to shift our paradigm in order to reflect a healthier expectation. If the attention is no longer on the self, but on the other, the Holidays take on a beautiful, deeper meaning. Given that Halloween and Thanksgiving are not Orthodox Holidays, one can look deeper to see the love of Saints and gratitude towards our Merciful Lord all year long. Christmas can become a call to action to be an incarnation of love in the lives of others just as our Lord Jesus Christ became for us when He took on humanity in His birth. New Year can be better turned to reflect on the Circumcision of the Lord which reflects the promise of Abraham. We too can honor our promises to God by reflecting on our baptism. Though the Orthodox celebrate St. Valentine’s Day in July, not February, we can look to what the saint died for. He died not for lustful love, but for holy matrimony, the love of marriage and self-sacrifice.
If we shift our way of thinking away from ourselves, we can see that although the meaning of the holidays have changed from when we were children, this does not make them depressing or less important. Rather, they become larger!
1 Corinthians 13:11 –“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.”
Let us joyfully welcome the Holidays for all of the right reasons! Let us honor the Holy Fast as we prepare for the Nativity of our Lord and Savior. Let us love one another!
I remain your servant in Christ,
Fr. Dimitri Tobias, Proistamenos