Christmas prone bittersweet nostalgia, how do we respond: Naughty, nice or grateful?

December 12, 2017

As humans we are fascinated by stories. A lot of stories encompass certain nostalgia, which is a very powerful emotion. The Christmas season can certainly bring some nostalgia since we all tend to yearn of some past during this time.
The wonderful story of Christmas brings some memories, therefore some bittersweet nostalgia.

“Bittersweet nostalgia helps us feel connected, both around important seasons and at other times, and it can be a salve to those suffering through hard times” according to a nostalgia expert Krystine Batcho, a Psychology professor at Le Moyne College in New York.

There are very different types of nostalgia that refer to good sentiments or feeling attracted to times in the past when we might not even have been alive yet. It can also be a personal nostalgia toward the past we have experienced; it also can be a nostalgia in terms of relationships, places, culture or connections with other people.

Everything about Christmas centers around relationships. People travel home to be with family members. We are more inclined to participate in religious traditions with others or be involved in charity works or cultural customs. Since Christmas brings people together, it is an occasion to reunite across time and space.

This fuzzy feeling of nostalgia during this special season is so unique that it can easily take us to being naughty, nice or grateful. The past is irretrievable — it will never be again, and that particular feeling can be clearly negative. If there is something traumatic that occurred — a crisis, a troubled marriage, family, immigration, death, natural disasters as hurricane Harvey — all of these situations can cause major changes and/or experiences.

This great sense of nostalgia in this season helps to link us with our personal past, it helps us to remember who we have been and what we have lived. As human persons this emotion of nostalgia can remind us that there was a better or worse time in life, but it can also give us a sense of self-worth or self-value.

From the spiritual perspective and connecting it with the story of the Nativity, that feeling can become an occasion to realize all good things we have learned, received and experienced at certain points. It help us to give thanks and appreciate what is given to us. It reminds us of the beautiful story of the birth of Jesus, the wonderful and unique story of St. Joseph and Our Lady Mary while waiting for Jesus to be born.

Nostalgia can take more than one sweet tone, remembering and sharing all these sentiments and emotions can help unite family around a sense of connectedness, a sense of identity as Christian/Catholic families. It is true that as nostalgia-prone people, we can become naughty if nostalgia takes us to feel lonely, despair and disconnected from others.

The emotion of nostalgia during this time of the year can help us to be connected with Joseph, Mary and others. It can help us to be a part of the story of the birth of our Baby Jesus. It can help us to feel connected with our loved ones, those we love and care for, or to those that need of our love and care, too. Nostalgia during Christmas can have a particular redemptive quality because we learn lessons from the past and it gives us hope for the future.

If someone feels separated, lonely or unhappy for any reason, the emotion of nostalgia can remind them that there was a better time in the past, that there was a time when someone loved you for who you are and in any circumstance you were. Christ loves us to the point of being incarnated for us and living in the circumstances He lived for us. What should our attitude toward that emotion be?

From the psychological point of view, feelings and emotions of nostalgia may lead us to be renewed. It can be really helpful because it reminds us of our real value, as creatures created by Christ and as Christ. It does not depend on how much money we can earn, if we have a job or not, if we are healthy or not, if we have many friends or not, if we are popular or powerful or important or not - any of these superficial things, all of which are important to this world. Our real value is in our capacity to love and to sacrifice for others.

What should our attitude be during this season in which we live the most powerful and beautiful story of humanity? Should our emotions and feelings be ruling our actions toward the Baby to be born and to others? Should we be allowing ourselves to be ungrateful, sad, unhopeful, just because we are not in the “best circumstances?” Is our behavior centered in vanity, caprice, luxury and selfishness?

It is time to accept and be grateful for all events we have lived or we are living. The past, present and future events are important to the point of the connection that is created with God and others. How much love and detachment you have put into all those events of your life is what really matters.

Let’s come to the manger to reunite with the Holy Family, and with them reunite with others with a nostalgic loving and grateful attitude! 

Maritza C. Roman-Pavajeau is an associate director with the Archdiocesan Office of Family Life Ministry.