Christmas and The Spirited Presence of The (Symbolic) Past

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Dave: My father was an entertainer. When Christmas season in Minnesota appeared he sang a humorous song in a Norwegian accent, “Oh I yust go nuts at Christmas…” That’s the first line. I don’t remember the rest. But that musical phrase frequently runs through my mind at this time of year.

My wife and I spent Saturday preparing for Christmas. On Sunday morning she told me several long dreams about our now grown children, scenes from the past the present. James Joyce described a collideroscape, an imaginary device for looking at the past present future dream reality, for looking at how the practical and the imaginative interact, it is a device through which we examine our dreams. My wife’s elaborate dreams were activated by the Christmas season which stimulates our dreamy world, the boundary between dream and day reality softens.

Christmas season is an emotionally important time of the year. It is a Christian holiday but the energy that goes with it attracts everyone. There is fun in it so why not join in? I think the deities are amused when humans share emotion and let dichotomizing religious principles images-3fade into the background. Christmas day, celebrating the birth of Jesus comes only four days after the Winter Solstice, December 21, the shortest day of the year. The Solstice has been a universal festival throughout the history of humanity preceding Christ and Moses and Mohammed. I am not certain about Buddha or Krishna, but I think so. The winter solstice celebrates the rebirth of the world. December 21 is the shortest day of the year. We have descended into winter, and darkness, then the days become steadily longer again after the solstice

.Christmas is the celebration of a birth, the birth of Jesus. It occurred to me that the Christmas festival celebrates a more comprehensive symbolic birth; the birth or rebirth of the Family Spirit. The pregnancy is noticed somewhere around Thanksgiving when the family starts looking ahead to Christmas. Where will we celebrate this year? Whose house will we go to? Then comes the madness of Black Friday, she shopping orgy where you can buy a lot of stuff cheap, those who plan ahead, start their Christmas gift buying.

Continuing on, the Christmas preparations are in our consciousness. All the stores have Christmas decorations. We begin to prepare. If it is going to be at our house, we have to figure out who will stay where. What will the menu be like? Shall we do turkey like last year? I images-6heard of a family who has paella every Christmas. Preparations are beginning. As the days number down the house is decorated, just like getting the nursery ready for the new baby.
In an earlier post I described the family group psychosis. Christmas is a spectacular example of a family group psychosis where the family’s togetherness means heightened emotion. When emotions are heightened there may be rejuvenation and there may be upset. But it is possible the pregnancy might miscarry, the spirit dies again, like it did last year. The word ‘psychosis’ stimulates apprehension. Psychosis refers to an overwhelming devastating problem. But in fact the Greek word “psychosis” means “animation”, “principle of life”. The verb form suggests “giving soul or life to…” Psychiatry hijacked and distorted the ambiguous word.

I worked with a couple where we had a family of origin consultation interview in early December. One of the grown daughters hesitantly described father’s hurtful, belligerent rage episodes that occurred every Christmas. She was talking about something that wasn’t to be talked about. Her sisters acknowledged this part of Christmas, fearful they would cause their aging father to erupt again. He didn’t even know what they were talking about. He didn’t remember any rage episodes. Could be he was just out of his head in those rages.

Several times during my career I have been asked if I, as psychiatrist, am busier at during the Christmas season. I have never found that to be the case. Families are together and the family process nourishes and perhaps assuages upsets. Upsets occur, but the togetherness modifies them. For those who have no families, the loneliness is particularly painful, but it seems more understandable, an existential loneliness that does not require emergency intervention.

Then comes January, days are growing incrementally longer, but winter becomes more severe, the families go back to their separate lives and for some a post-partum depression sets in, mourning the spirit.

So “We yust go nuts at Christmas…” and the hope is that out of our shared ‘psychosis’ the family spirit will be reborn.

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