THE LIGHT AND DARK OF HOLIDAYS – the winter of our discontent?

by Velleda C. Ceccoli Ph.D. on December 24, 2011

Twas’ the night before Christmas and all through New York, all the people were smiling and nodding and caroling about. OK not really, but people do seem to be taken by the holiday spirit, many gather by the tree in Rockefeller center looking up at it and taking photographs. Others seem busy buying presents for those they love. There are singing Santa’s for the Salvation Army- some of them rocking out and moon dancing. The city is lit up with stars and decorated trees. New York is beautiful any time of the year, but during the Christmas holidays it is spectacular, even magical.

New Yorkers are a tough breed. We have learned to look through people on the street, smile only at those we know, and interact minimally with strangers. These are the unspoken rules of city living, and when you break one of them, you do so at your own risk! But, somehow at Christmas the rules relax, people look you in the eye, talk to you at the counter, even give up their seat for you on the subway. During the holiday season all of us seem to remember that we are linked, connected to each other through our humanity.

Inside my office the mood is a little dimmer. Our human bond brings other associations. Holidays appear to take their toll on many, as they often highlight all the peculiarities and difficulties in relationships and family connections. They also highlight loneliness. Those that are in relationships may be unhappy with them and those that do not have them come into intense contact with their longing. Holidays can do this and more.

This is because holidays are days that are meant to celebrate connection, when such a connection is painful or non-existent, holidays become days of mourning. Reminders of what has been lost, or what has not become a reality. Much like birthdays (a sort of personal holiday), which often spawn reflections on what one has accomplished and done with one’s life, holidays make us think of those around us and our connection to them. They elicit memories of previous holidays as well as wishes and fantasies full of personal desires.

The dark and the light, the inside and the outside, the other side of the coin, the yin and the yang – holidays are not exempt from this dichotomy. This is important because it means that we can alternate in our feelings about holidays and what they mean to us. We may flip back and forth between the light and the dark of it, and travel through the territory in between. I encourage people to pay attention to what causes those shifts in them, what triggers particular feelings and what makes it possible to understand them, to live through them, to reach the other side. I am also particularly interested in the area in between the light and dark, as I think it is capable of much more emotional range and behavioral action. I think the area in between the light and dark is where our life is possible, where movement can happen, where change takes hold. While the dark side is often the area that is explored in therapy, it is the area in between the light and dark, the area that is generated and created in relationship to my patients where change and new possibilities reside.

So whether holidays touch upon the dark, or the light, I encourage you to search the in between.

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”


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