The Psychology Beneath the Winter Holidays

Making the Darkness Conscious'

Holidays, festivals, and their rituals and symbols are very powerful because they connect us to the Earth and its changes in ways that have been fine-tuned over hundreds and even thousands of years.

Holidays have us as much as we have them.

And not always in a pleasant grip.

Holidays and festivals did not arise out of a need for a day off but from our need to stay connected to the rhythms of, and pay homage to, the natural world. They help us let go of the past and embrace the future.

We can’t let go of the past if we do not see it clearly. However, looking honestly at the previous year and our passing life can open wounds so we think of ways around that pain and call them coping.

The psychologist and author James Hillman taught that “the wound and the eye are one and the same.” According to the Jungian analyst Michael Comforti, those who suffer depression during the holidays may in fact be closer to the “true spirit” of Christmas. And depth psychologist Brian Collinson pointed out that “within holiday sorrow may be the stirring of new life that wants to be born.”

If you are having a hard time during the holidays, you may very well be paying more homage to nature than those who just coast through holidays. Struggle makes soul.

At the time of the winter holidays, the days have been getting darker for the last six months, and we have just been through the darkest day of the year. Now, the days have started lengthening. Light and life have returned. The world is brightening, animating and renewing itself

Because we are connected to nature’s rhythms, we are renewing as well.

Except where we’re not.

We all have places of darkness that are independent of the seasonal ebbs and flows of life and where longer days are not enough to brighten things up. Family conflicts, addictions, anxiety, stress, the loss of a job, death of a loved one, and the end of a relationship are a few of the places in our lives where renewal takes place on a deeper, less obvious, and frequently more painful level.

This is where the heavy lifting of the holidays occurs: Where our symptoms meet the holiday’s insistence that we find a foothold of light and renewal in the places we would rather avoid. Although it might seem easier if we could be swept away by the lights on the trees, houses, streets, and businesses, those lights do not penetrate deeply enough because, as Carl Jung said, “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”

No matter how this coming year turns out, we will be back at the dark winter again within 12 months. This gives us another year to integrate into our psychological toolkit and a sense of hopefulness for the future independent of how the past actually turned out. Because in some respects, the most important renewal of the winter holidays is the renewal of hope, which is its own form of light.


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