Many of us have this fantasy that all kids and youth have a great Christmas. They get 12 days off from school. They get lots of presents. They don’t have to do anything to make Christmas happen. Christmas is magical for the young.
Well, for many teens Christmas is not magical - it is a BLUE Christmas. Often they feel even more pressure to be happy and full of holiday cheer then we do as adults. Their parents, social media, TV commercials, shopping malls, movies and music all say it is a Wonderful Time of the Year!
Some youth will play along and act happy or really are happy at times. But over the years I have discovered that the 12 days of Christmas is very often a time of depression and stress.
During their holiday break they are often dealing with...
1. School homework and grades
2. Local and world crises going on around them
3. Family money issues
4. Peer and relationship issues
5. The loss of a loved one or a really sick family member
6. Parents arguing
7. Trying to make parents and grandparents happy (even more so when parents are divorced and complicated scheduling is involved)
8. Getting dental or medical work completed during the holiday
9. Writing college applications
10. Visiting colleges or trying to decide what to do after high school
11. Feeling a lack of self worth due to meeting all of the above issues
To name 12 off the top of my head. But there are many more issues or situations that make our youth feel blue during the holidays.
Holidays and finals are the highest time for youth trying to hurt themselves. They feel out of sorts...but can’t explain it... How many times have I heard kids tell me, "It is Christmas time! I should be happy but I just want to cry all the time."
Our emotions are often like a roller coaster ride during the holiday. I think we as adults working with youth can offer all the fun Advent events and honor all the Holiday traditions while at the same time offering space for youth to feel what they are feeling.
One of our Advent traditions at our youth group is the Advent Stress Night. We play a few silly games. Then we each share what we are worried about in the upcoming holiday.
Hearing that they are not alone in their worries may be all they need... that the magical feeling of Christmas may be fleeting for them and that is ok.
I remind them that often people look happy on the outside but may not be feeling that way. I remind them that Christmas is 12 days long. We brainstorm some ideas of what they can do to relive the stress and have some fun during the 12 days of Christmas. We then share something we can do to help ourselves and each other when we are feeling sad or blue.
I give them all a blue notecard or paper. I light some blue candles, put on some quiet holiday music and ask them to write some suggestions on the blue card that will help them during the holiday. (I have them write my cell number on the card too.) I have them address an envelope to themselves and put their card inside. I do a card to myself too! I then mail their card to them a few days before Christmas to remind them that they have skills and support to get through when things get tough.
Also I take mental notes during that meeting because I send out New Years cards (instead of Christmas Cards) to the youth with a personal note of support and love for the upcoming year. What I learn during the Advent meeting helps with the personal notes. I make sure to do the cards to all the youth even if they were not at that meeting. I try to get the ready the cards before Christmas. I do not seal them in case I want to add a last minute note.
Giving our youth permission to feel sad or stressed during the holiday is a wonderful gift. It allows them to understand that we all have highs and lows during the holidays. It is normal! They don’t have to fake Christmas cheer. In allowing them their feelings, we are offering them the true gift of Christmas: the unconditional love and acceptance that Jesus brings to comfort our hurting world.