Twice in the past two weeks I’ve had a conversation that goes something like this: “Christmas feels so sad – is it just me?” Or, “Why is it the holidays feel so melancholy? Maybe I’ve got seasonal affective disorder?”
It’s true. There are lots of modern-life reasons why the holidays can make us feel blue: stress, travel, too much shopping, too much wine and making merry, too much pressure to make everything look perfectly cheery and bright.
But maybe there’s an older reason … maybe the typical modern explanations are wrong, or at least inadequate. Maybe this is a naturally dark, eerie time, and your mood is right in tune with the original spirit of the Yuletide.
Why is it that the most famous and most resilient Christmas story in the English-speaking world is a ghost story , and a pretty creepy one at that? Not to mention the long list of modern Christmas tales that aren’t exactly cheery and bright.
Kat Eschner points out that ” the Christmas ghost story’s origins have little to do with the kind of commercial Christmas we’ve celebrated since the Victorian age. They’re about darker, older, more fundamental things: winter, death, rebirth, and the rapt connection between a teller and his or her audience. But they’re packaged in the cozy trappings of the holiday.”
That older history of the yuletide season is in tune with our traditional end-of-year reflections on the joys and tragedies of the year about to pass, including celebrations of those who “passed into the next world.”
I did a quick count, and if my childhood piano lessons are holding up, 14 of these 15 best religious Christmas songs are in minor keys. In fact, sad Christmas songs are so common that Spotify’s got a playlist for that (of course). If you’re not in tears while singing “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” time to lay off the eggnog.
“Telling ghost stories during winter is a hallowed tradition, a folk custom stretches back centuries , when families would wile away the winter nights with tales of spooks and monsters.”
I say, let’s go with it! Embrace the blues and the eerie! For one thing it seems that singing sad songs, as Sir Elton John informed us long ago, does make most people feel less sad.
And telling ghost stories is an ancient way of dealing with this time of darkness, as Colin Dickey reminds us: “Telling ghost stories during winter is a hallowed tradition, a folk custom stretches back centuries , when families would wile away the winter nights with tales of spooks and monsters.”
The only thing to argue about is which film version of “A Christmas Carol” to watch ’round the fire with a big bowl of popcorn.
(Not that there’s really anything to discuss: it’s Scrooge (1951) with Alastair Sim in the title role. Next question.)