Wed | Jul 24, 2019

Michael Abrahams | Reaching out to the sad at Christmas

Published:Monday | December 17, 2018 | 12:53 AM

For many, Christmas is ‘the most wonderful time of the year’. They absolutely enjoy and look forward to the carols, the sorrel and cake and ham, the festive lighting and decorations, gathering with loved ones, partying, and the church services and events. For them, Christmas is a time for giving, sharing and togetherness.

But, for many others, Christmas is a nightmare, and they brace for it as they would for a Category Five hurricane. As far as they are concerned, this is the most miserable time of the year. For some, this will be the first Christmas since the death of a loved one or the painful end of a relationship. In other instances, Christmas marks the anniversary of a tragedy in their lives, such as the death of someone close to them, or a traumatic childhood event.

The festivities can trigger unpleasant memories and create much discomfort. I recall reading a story about a man who committed suicide after attending his children’s school Christmas play. For his children, every Christmas finds them reliving the tragedy.

Just last week, there was a story in the local news about a man who allegedly stabbed his wife to death while his young children were in the house, and, as I write this, someone very dear to me is preparing to attend the funeral of her brother, who was abducted from his home in an inner-city community and brutally murdered. This Christmas will not be a happy one for the children of the murdered woman, or for my friend who lost her brother, and subsequent holiday seasons are likely to be reminders of the pain they are now enduring.

For people who are lonely, their loneliness is often intensified at this time of the year as they see others gleefully sharing about their time spent with spouses, family and friends. Many of us suffer from loneliness, longing for a companion we wish we could share our lives with.

The constant talk of Christmas being an opportunity to spend quality time with others only serves to highlight the loneliness. After all, this is the time of year when people are most likely to hop on a plane and travel over land and sea to be with those who mean a lot to them.

Spending Christmas alone can be terribly depressing.

Christmas has also become very commercialised, and the financial demands of the festive season can be heavy on the pocket. Many people expect gifts at this time, and the feeling of being obligated to purchase presents for them can be overwhelming, especially if their ‘chests are high’.

Christmas may also coincide with or precede other periods of sadness and discomfort, compounding the misery. Persons living in countries that experience cold, dark and prolonged winters are at risk for developing seasonal affective disorder (SAD), recurring depression that begins in late autumn and early winter and persists throughout the winter season, and the Christmas season may serve as a further irritant. Some people get depressed at New Year’s when they realise that their goals for the previous year have not been met, and as Christmas approaches, so do the anxiety and sadness or depression.

If you are one who enjoys Christmas and remains unscathed throughout the season, reach out to those who you know are lonely and miserable. Engage them, be kind to them, invite them into your space if you can, and if they are willing (and not too toxic).

If you are one of those experiencing sadness at this time, my heart goes out to you. Reaching out is important for you too. Volunteering to help the less fortunate may be of benefit, if their situations are not too depressing to deal with. No matter how awful you feel, there will be others even worse off, and extending positive energy to them may lift yours as well.

Likewise, I send my love and positive energy to you, my brothers and sisters. Stay strong. It will soon be over. The decorations will be taken down, the Christmas trees packed away or discarded, and the carols ‘hauled and pulled up’, and you be able to peacefully move on with your lives.

- Michael Abrahams is a gynaecologist and obstetrician, comedian and poet. Email feedback to and, or tweet @mikeyabrahams.