Adrienne: With everything that’s been going on, a lot of us are having trouble conjuring up much “Christmas spirit” this year. And that can make next year feel daunting too. But is it possible that the absence of that feeling can tell us something useful? Today, our Wellness Columnist, Scott McPherson, is here to show us how our awareness of this can improve our 2021. Hi Scott.
Scott: Hi Adrienne.
Adrienne: So, if we’re not feeling much ‘Christmas spirit’… what exactly is it, that’s missing?
Scott: Well, a lot of people are avoiding malls and shopping. And a lot of us aren’t seeing our families. And people aren’t going out as much, so we’re not seeing the usual Christmas flair. We don’t see the usual hustle and bustle and the same general friendliness. So unless we have young kids, this year a lot of us won’t have enough cues to trigger our positive ‘concept of Christmas.’
Adrienne: So that’s what generates the ‘Christmas spirit’ sensation? All the Christmas cues?
Scott: Yeah. Like, when we have a concept like ‘Christmas,’ in our minds, that will be like a big hairball of connected ideas. Everywhere two hairs touch are like these connections that capture the bits of life that our brain associates with Christmas. Sights like Santa, Rudolph, the tree, decorations, lights, wrapped presents, bows. The sounds of carollers. Flavours, like eggnog, Christmas cake, turkey, gravy. Might even include dates or events, or whatever group of people we celebrated with as we grew up. And the most interwoven part is the shift in the zeitgeist. Because almost everyone’s nicer. More patient, more generous, more thoughtful. Kinder. More helpful. So all that stuff is what forms our personal ‘hairball of Christmas connections.’ But without a quorum of them lit up, we just can’t conjure much Christmas spirit. That’s what happened this year. Most of us are just missing too many triggers.
Adrienne: Is there anything we can do about that?
Scott: Well we can add more triggers, like putting up the tree or decorating the house. That’ll depress some people even more. But they’ll know who they are. But for most people the extra cues can help. Fortunately, the way our brains work, even if we didn’t want to start watching a Christmas movie, we’d still likely be glad we watched it when it was over. That’s because the watching itself would help trigger more of our conceptual Christmas.
Adrienne: So by the time the hostages in the Nakatomi Tower are rescued, we could easily be feeling more Christmas spirit than when we started?
Scott: Exactly. That’s what makes Die Hard such an awesome Christmas movie. But as helpful as those things are, it’s important to point out that Bruce Willis, and the movie, are kind of like ornaments, or presents, or the tree. They are the nouns of Christmas. But there are also the verbs of Christmas. These are the extra cushions of patience or tolerance that we extend to others at this time of year –the offers of assistance and generosity that kind of thing.
Adrienne: So the Nouns of Christmas are like the set and our cast, and the Verb of Christmas is more like the script. So it’s the action of Christmas spirit?
Scott: Yeah, yeah, exactly. The verbs are the actions. So, for instance, on average, most of us make more eye contact around Christmas. We smile at each other and greet each other more often. So we meet people more as a result. And the world seems nicer and happier. But really, we’re the ones that are replacing our judgment and resistance with acceptance and enthusiasm. And so is everyone else.
Adrienne: So why doesn’t that happen all year? Like, if it feels so good, and it’s that easy, why don’t we maintain that throughout the year?
Scott: I wonder this all the time. Ah, it’s actually innocence mostly. That’s how our culture wired our hairball for Christmas. It has start and end dates. Even advertising and the media landscape play a role. So, just like we got trained to turn that feeling on, we also got trained to turn it back off. Right after New Years. It’s really just a habit.
Adrienne: So the only reason all of that good will evaporates is because we stop producing it?
Scott: Yeah. Sad as it seems, that’s true. Most of us aren’t going to keep the lights and tree set up all year. But all the other stuff we stop voluntarily. There’s nothing that says we can’t keep that sense of connection of others, you know, going all year. We just have to do more of the same things. So, for instance, around Christmas people are in closer contact with people we love. There’s a lot of pleases and thank you’s, and folks are super polite. We may not want to hold mall doors open for each other during a pandemic, but still. Even at a distance, around Christmas people are generally more helpful, thoughtful, patient, forgiving, gracious, kind, generous…. Those actions are all parts of that hairball of ideas that help form our sense of Christmas. And you’re right, that is something we can choose to do at any time. And we even have proof. Edmonton has a lot of Ukrainians and others that celebrate using the Julian calendar. So right there, the Ukrainians gain an extra week of Christmas spirit. That demonstrates that the spirit-feeling happens inside us, not outside us. Because they’re seeing all of the lights and trees being taken down by most people, and yet they still stay in that ‘looking forward to Christmas’ state of mind.
Adrienne: Alright, so how can the rest of us take that extra week of Christmas spirit that the Ukrainians get, and stretch it all the way through 2021?
Scott: That was pretty smart of them wasn’t it?
Scott: We won’t have all of the external cues, so we have to do the same thing for ourselves that all the trappings of Christmas normally do. This is the time of year people advertise ‘being nice’ to us. We have to stay conscious of the fact that the people around us actually deserve our care and respect. I did a blog post yesterday that talked about how we’re surrounded by elves. All of these invisible people we walk by each day –we think they’re strangers, but they’re people that help us. Some clean our drinking water. Others take our garbage away or make the sewer work. Some are strangers to us, but they did some huge favour for someone we love. Some are the medical professionals and hospital helping the people with COVID. The guy who gets to the opening — open parking stall at the same time as us, it might be the paramedic that’s going to save our father’s life next year. Maybe we had a employee that did a lot of really valuable work this year, and the girl waiting to use the crosswalk is the babysitter that facilitated all of their overtime. Another might be the truck driver that delivered a treasured Christmas gift just in time. Someone else can be the government worker who sorted something out for us on the phone the other day. So, if we’re paying attention, our lives can only really happen thanks to tons of other people every single day. Even right now, we wouldn’t be on the air without people like Chris and the rest of the team. We even needed Alexander Graham Bell. So even on a bad day, we are surrounded by good fortune. [Phone rings in background] Sorry about that. But we won’t even recognize that if we don’t actually try to stay conscious of it.
Adrienne: Alright, so the biggest thing is to really be aware of all of our connections to other people, and how much we need each other daily?
Scott: Yeah. If you recall, we talked about New Years Resolutions a year ago and we discussed the three types of resolutions. I put that one back up on the relaxandsucceed facebook page if anyone wants to hear it again. It talks about how there are the external changes like losing weight or going to the gym or being on time. And then internal behaviour changes, like trying not to yell at the kids so much, or stopping swearing. And then there are changes to how we see the world. So this one would be like doing that. We change the world by taking all of these anonymous people that we walk past every day, and then we use our awareness to turn them into the very real people we often forget to value. From there it’s pretty easy, because we all have a habit of treating the people we value pretty well. And uh, when we treat people well, they tend to do likewise for us. And that’s most of the difference right there. By the end of 2021, with just some awareness and kindness, we could drastically change our world view to something more positive. And if lots of us did that, we will have made the world better in the process.
Adrienne: That sounds pretty good actually.
Scott: It really does.
For those who may be unaware of it, I regularly have the pleasure of discussing mindfulness practices with Adrienne Pan, the co-host of Radio Active on CBC Radio One.
Once the show has aired, if there is an audio version available I will add a link to it here. A listing of all of the columns is here. For those without audio versions, I will attach a transcript of the column to this post, after its airing.
What exactly is ‘Christmas spirit?’ And how can we use it to ensure that we make the most of the challenges we’ll all face in 2021, as we wrestle down the pandemic?
Consider checking us out. If you’ve never heard the CBC Radio Active show before, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. They have a great team.
Take care everyone.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.