Santa Claus is the icon for the marketing madness that dominates the season named for Jesus Christ, who taught us to love everyone everywhere. Jesus was an activist for peace and poor people who drove the money changing marketers out of the Temple, and became a martyr for social justice. Our ever lengthening Christmas season is make or break time for retail marketing and the economy as we struggle to make ends meet in the aftermath of the great recession. Before Halloween, Santa Claus was seen popping up among the pumpkins in TV ads. We decorate the mantle in our den with a diverse collection of Santas and his elf-like predecessors of ancient religious and pagan groups who reveled at annual mid-winter celebrations. Increasingly, Santa has become the supreme symbol of out-of-control consumerism. The Jolly Old Elf of mass marketing rules the day named for Jesus in the most materialistic culture in world history. We are caught up in a frenzy of advertising, buying and selling, that diminishes the relevance of the birth and exemplary life of Jesus. On Monday of Christmas week the largest newspaper in South Carolina had two thirds of its front page occupied by an article titled "From paintings to gizmos to toys, Christmas bringing folks to stores" and a picture of a young boy and his mother rummaging through giant stacks of toys in a local store. On most days since October, the paper has become a wrapper for a big bundle of advertising inserts for local retail stores.
Not surprisingly, Christmas is the most likely time of the year to experience depression under the pressure of such marketing madness. Especially for Christians, Christmas should be the happiest time of the year as they celebrate the birth of Jesus with family and friends. But according to the National Institutes of Health, Christmas is the time of year that people experience the highest incidence of depression. Mental health specialists say there is a significant increase in complaints about depression at Christmas time and a survey revealed that 45% of the depressed respondents feared this most festive time of the year. Health care providers and law enforcement report the highest incidences of suicide and attempted suicide during the Christmas season.
I began feeling an overwhelming sense of sadness around Christmas when I was about 12 or 13 years old and retreated to my bedroom even though Santa Claus was coming to town. Maybe I worried too much about whether I had been bad or good, naughty or nice, but visions of sugar plums didn't dance in my head and I didn't have myself a merry little Christmas. I would become despondent and would tell my Mom and Dad I didn't feel like going to school. Mother took me to the Doctor and his diagnosis was seasonal affective disorder (SAD), caused by the dark winter weather. I don't know for certain why I got depressed, but I still tend to get irritable and down-in-the dumps during the holiday season. I am 74 years old and dread of the holiday season has haunted me since I was a kid. When I was in high school and college I was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder and received electro-convulsive (shock) treatments as therapy.
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A major reason for depression is that people get angry and regretful at Christmas because of commercial and social pressure to spend too much money on gifts and go further in debt, and attend or host too many parties. Many are depressed due to a victim mentality created by excessive reflection on the inadequacies of life in comparison with other people who seem to have more happiness and possessions. I dwell on missed opportunities of the past and coulda, woulda, shoulda speculation rather than focusing on an awareness and the reality of the present. Others dread Christmas because they are expected to attend social gatherings with people they'd rather not be around and have dinner with their extended family and argue politics etc. Especially, in our economic crisis, folks feel bad because they can't afford to buy nice gifts for their family and friends. At least for Christians, the greatest gift at Christmas is Jesus Christ, who gave his life in the struggle for peace, justice and poor people.
With over a trillion dollars budgeted for the military and defense related expenditures in 2011 we should emulate Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Jesus who engaged in civil disobedience and gave their all for peace and poor people. Jesus rejected the vengeful "eye for an eye" in favor of "turning the other cheek" in universal love. After Jesus turned over the tables of the money changers in the temple he was arrested, tried and crucified. Rather than joining in the excessive commercialism symbolized by Santa, those of us who believe in what Jesus did should love all people and become activists for peace and poor people.