COVID-19 has pretty much left 2020 in ruins and it now has one last victim: Christmas. And, even though we may be afraid to admit it, many millennials are secretly relieved that Christmas 2020 might be cancelled.
That’s right, boomers… the “War on Christmas” that you’ve been so petrified of for so long has reached the peak of its crescendo…
Jokes aside though, we do wish all of our readers and your families a very happy (and safe!) festive season this year, but the coronavirus pandemic is going to make Christmas very different this year and it provides us with an opportunity to address the elephant in the room: the mental health meltdown that coincides with Christmas every year.
Of course, it’s true that, in the Northern Hemisphere, Christmas coincides with the darkest and coldest days of the year, and the popular belief is a correlation with suicide and winter (Although this assertion has been thoroughly disputed). But there is also no questioning that the heightened expectations to be happy and jovial, as well as the exposure to festering family feuds at this time of year can be mentally draining – anecdotally at least.
In South Africa, where Christmas is celebrated within a week and a half of summer solstice, suicide rates soar over the festive period, according to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG).
The causes of this are typically that people tend to drink more over this time of year and, if you don’t have family or if you’re pressured into visiting family, people grow very lonely.
“Although my parents are together, it’s not exactly a happy marriage and Christmas Day is generally a quiet affair at which a collection of resentments hover over the table,” writes The Telegraph‘s Jessica Cook.
“We’re supremely skilled at passive aggression. But with grim middle-class determination we smile, pop on a Carols from Kings CD and crack open another bag of Kettle Chips. That’s what makes it tricky — we’re not the sort of people who have big festive rows, so I can’t clearly point to what makes the whole thing so terrible, aside from all the repressed feelings.”
Cook spoke to a number of millennials in the UK about their optimism at the COVID-19 pandemic potentially keeping us from travelling to visit family and attend obligatory lunches and dinners.
“I hoped the choice would be out of my hands and that I wouldn’t have to confront the decision of whether I have a duty to be there or not, when it’s always so stressful”, said 32-year-old Laura, from London. “But my sisters made me feel really guilty about even the possibility of not going back.”
She also reports on the guilt-trip that 33-year-old Rachel’s mother sent her on.
“She told me she won’t enjoy Christmas if I don’t go home, which obviously made me feel terrible – anxious and upset. But then I started to feel angry, too. It’s a real burden.”
So what is the common response to the millennial generation’s beef with Christmas?
Apparently we’re all snowflakes and the older generations hated seeing each other too, but just learned to deal with it. But, the consequences of sweeping this issue under the rug are very, very real. And none of us want to see our loved ones fall into a state of depression or to take their own lives. So, let’s look at what you can do:
Physiologist, Vincent Cloete, says suicides occur throughout the year but rates are notably higher at this time of year, especially for people who spend it alone. It is an occurrence that affects mostly young adults and the elderly, and gives the SADAG some guidelines for spotting depression and preventing suicide.
He identifies three warning signs:
1. People who withdraw themselves from family and friends, especially during the festive season.
2. People who start drinking alcohol more than usual and act who act out of sorts.
3. People who ware negative no matter how hard others try to make them feel better or to see things in a better light.
Other risk factors include:
• One or more prior suicide attempts
• Family history of mental disorder or substance abuse
• Family history of suicide
• Family violence
• Physical or sexual abuse
• Keeping firearms in the home
• Chronic physical illness, including chronic pain
• Exposure to the suicidal behavior of others.
So Christmas 2020 is inevitably going to be different, but we’re certainly not encouraging you to completely avoid your family. But do take note of the fact that the older your parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents and whoever else you were supposed to be celebrating the holidays with this year, the higher the risk is that this could end up being their last Christmas… so you want to see them at this nominally “special time of year”. But, at the same time, especially if you’re travelling long distances to see them, you also desperately want to avoid being the person who spreads the virus and puts their entire family’s lives at risk.
It will be a difficult balancing act that we have no interest in dictating to you and everybody’s decisions about whether to see their families or not this Christmas will be nuanced and personal. But we have a chance to do something special in Christmas 2020 by raising awareness and sympathising with the people who will be forced to stay home, as well as the people without families who have to spend every year alone.
If there are places at your dinner table opening up because a family member with co-morbidities has decided to stay home this year, consider inviting an orphaned friend to take their place. They don’t have to be privy to your passive-aggressive family drama either! And you never know… just giving them a reason to get out of the house on Christmas Day may save their life. And that doesn’t mean you have to leave mom and dad behind either! Put some effort into creating a Zoom-powered table setting for them and help them to feel as much a part of Christmas this year as ever.
How do you do that? Read our article on How to throw a socially distanced Christmas party.
How are you celebrating Christmas this year? Join the Essential Millennial team on our social media platforms on 25 December, and tell us how you’re spending your socially distanced Christmas in 2020 by using the #CancelChristmas hashtag.