As the hustle and bustle of the holiday season approaches, the time of year is touted for celebrating the spirit of giving and love. At the same time, pharmacists and health food stores gear up for the biggest cold and flu season of the year. Could this be a coincidence or is the Christmas holiday making people sick?
According to U.S. national statistics, during the cold and flu season, which starts in November and runs through the end of February/March, somewhere between 35-50 million people will come down with the flu. That is an alarming number when considering it does not even count the minor colds which will no doubt plague millions more over the next several months.
Christmas time is supposed to be about peace, service and the remembrance of unconditional love, at least according to the Christian tradition after which the popular holiday is named. Christmas comes from “Christ” and for the enormous Christian population, this holiday was meant to celebrate the birth of one man, thought to be a significant figure in human history, and even the “Savior” of mankind. Originally, though, the light born on the earth at this time of year referred to the winter solstice and the return of the light of the sun after months of plummeting into darkness.
The holiday was the Yule and included the burning of logs and candles to symbolize keeping the light, even during the darkest months, until the days would lengthen again. The origin of Christmas was actually pagan, whose tradition includes acknowledgement of the cycles in nature as well as much internal symbology, including an awareness that winter, the darker months(in the northern hemisphere), spoke to a time to go within and seek wisdom from the light of ones own soul.
The whole addition of Santa Clause and the commercialism which accompanies his jolly disposition was added on much later to the scene. Some report the first Santa Clause to actually be a Siberian shaman carrying bags of psilocybin mushrooms which were dried upon the pine trees. He was only able to reach the homes buried in snow by climbing down the chimneys. Reindeer, who were and are native to that region of the world, were reported to hallucinate and even “fly” if they happened to eat the magic mushrooms decorating the forest trees.
Today’s celebratory version of Christmas, kicked off with Black Friday and crowds of shoppers overwhelming the malls through the eve of such occasion, is a far cry from any of the roots said holiday is supposed to emulate. As shoppers madly dash from store to store, charging up their credit cards to buy gifts which will, in all likelihood, be returned the day after Christmas, it could inspire the question whether the holiday of giving is actually making people sick – or is at least a far cry from the peace it was meant to bring?
How Good is Giving
Studies report that a gift given from the heart, be it time, money or material items, increases endorphins (the feel-good hormone), decreases stress and helps people to live longer. The National Institute of Health reported in 2006 that giving to charities activated a part of the brain responsible for happiness and trust. At the University of California in Berkley, a study revealed elderly folks would decrease their chance of dying within a five-year period by 44 percent if they engaged in service activities. Is something being done wrong? If gift giving is meant to boost health then why is Christmas the least healthy time of the year?
To find the answer one must look first to the mental disposition surrounding the Christmas holiday and whether one is approaching it with a glad heart and “good cheer” or feelings of resentment and obligation? Take a look at the following questions and assess which ones conjure a “yes” response:
- Why are gifts purchased? Because it is expected, because gifts were purchased last year, or because they are family members?
- Do you hate going to the store during the Christmas season, but do it anyway, begrudgingly?
- Do you shudder to see more toys under the tree for your children which you know will simply end up unused within a few months?
- Do you secretly wish Santa would no longer exist – for real – and someone would invent a new way to celebrate – and yet you keep going along with the tradition?
- Do you love the idea of giving, though detest buying someone a store packaged item which holds no real meaning, but you do it out of the lack of time to make something meaningful because you do not want to show up “empty-handed” at the holidays?
If the answer was “yes” to any or all of the above questions, Christmas, though meant to be a holiday full of rest and joy, just might be making you sick. Doctors say resentment can suppress the immune system, throw off blood-sugar balance, slow the metabolism, raise blood pressure and impair the brain’s ability to think. Dr. Paula Bloom, a psychologist from Nova Southeastern University and regular contributor for CNN calls resentment “a toxic emotion.”
The Sweet Side
Besides the bustle of less than heart-felt shopping many people may be engaging in, which could be contributing to health concerns, there is another factor worth considering as to why the holidays are less healthy than other times of the year. From October 31st through the new year the streets are laced with sugar, literally. There is no other single time of year where individuals consume more sweets than during the Christmas holidays. Whether it is pumpkin pie or sweet bread, candy canes or frosted Christmas cookies, the holiday season, which so many love, is also the time of year sugar runs most rampant in most people’s systems. According to numerous studies and reports, white sugar suppresses immune functions for up to eight hours after it is consumed. With all the treats running wild through the holidays, it is no wonder people are getting sick. Dr. Sears, famous for his parental nutrition guidance, states that eating the equivalent of two cans of soda worth of sugar (equal to about 20 teaspoons) can reduce the white blood cells ability to fight germs by 40 percent for up to five hours.
Perhaps it is time to take a new approach to the holiday season and realize this time of year does not have to compromise health in order to fulfill its purpose. Consider trying following instead:
The Gift-Giving Side of Things
- Make something – people love gifts that are home-made – but only do it if you have the time and WANT to.
- Do not feel pressured to give a gift on December 25th only, gifts are welcomed by people any day of the year.
- Emphasize the blessing of gathering with loved ones in a no-stress atmosphere, no requirements, no obligations, just togetherness.
- Ask people who normally buy you presents, not to…unless they REALLY want to.
- Meditate on what the holiday season means to you and find a way to bring the spirit of that meaning alive and tangible for you.
- Invent a new tradition and boycott the socially accepted model. Be different!
- Try out another tradition – if you have always celebrated Christmas, try Hanukkah… maybe the Jews know something the rest don’t.
- Create art with those you love, put on a talent show, or share music with a neighbor.
- Serve at a local charity.
- Commit to not spend anything extra during this season and breathe in the relaxation that comes from avoiding the madness.
How to Sweetly Desert the Desserts
- Look into raw and vegan options which use healthier sugars, such as coconut nectar, maple syrup, and honey. There are many delicious options available on the web.
- Choose to eat one less instead of one more.
- Start a new tradition with healthier menu items and ask friends and family members to contribute to the process.
- Hang plastic candy canes on the tree instead of real ones and choose simple, life-enhancing “practical” stocking stuffers, if you choose to keep that tradition.
- Look for low or no-sugar beverages. Most stores have a health-food aisle these days, give it a look.
- Bake with sugar alternatives like Sucanut, agave nectar, coconut nectar and honey.
- Fast through the holidays or take some other fun, drastic approach to doing the holiday food thing differently. It will get an individual out of their comfort zone and allow new experiences in.
- Go ethnic! Trying out Mexican food, Thai, African, or some other different style of eating is sure to put a person into a different frame of mind and get them away from the traditional sweet stuff so often associated with the Christmas season.
- Give time instead of food. Rather than those sweet plates of treats, offer to babysit for neighbors, take someone’s dog for a walk, give rides, or do something else kind for those individuals usually spoiled with sugary snacks.
- Choose fruit over white sugar laden treats. Fruit contains natural sugars easier for your body to break-down which do not strip the body of vital nutrients nor suppress the immune system like white sugar does.
Whatever one decides to do this Christmas holiday season, make sure it is done out of love, desire, and kindness for both the host and loved ones involved rather than out of obligation or a sense of need. By choosing to act with awareness, rather than on auto-pilot, perhaps Christmas time can become a season of wellness rather than the season of sickness. If the Christmas holiday is being overdone, maybe it is time to slow down and take a new approach.
By Stasia Bliss