by Annette Bridges. ©2008. All rights reserved.

We bought our Christmas tree today. Picking out a tree the weekend following Thanksgiving has long been our family tradition. But I have many friends who started their Christmas traditions earlier than normal this year. They just couldn’t wait to swing into the spirit of the season.

I’ve heard this desire voiced by strangers at my hairdresser’s shop, too. It seems there is an anxious longing to ease economic stress and worries, which has prompted some to get out their holiday decorations and music before Thanksgiving.

For many, Christmas brings a happy and blissful feeling, and yet for others, Christmas brings only sad memories and depression. Or this is what I believed before I began writing this column.

I have long held the opinion that an overdose of Christmas cheer generally pushes those teetering on the mental health brink over the edge. I had assumed that those who were “without” were depressed by those “with” — sometimes to the point of suicide. In fact, I was certain that the month of December was America’s psychologically most-menacing month, and I would have guessed that our nation’s highest suicide rate was on Christmas Day.

After doing a bit of research, however, I find evidence that suggests — as one study put it — “holiday depression is about as real as a red-nosed reindeer.”

Indeed, studies verify our national suicide rate in December has been either average or below average. One study cited the national average rate of suicides as 34 per million, with the average rate on Christmas Day as 30 per million. And the lowest point of the year was identified as taking place during the one to two weeks prior to Christmas.

While one suicide is one too many, I’m ashamed to admit that I was surprised that the national average was even as low as it is. I say ashamed because I think my surprise suggests that I need more faith in myself and my fellow human beings and our ability to cope with adversity. But I was heartened to learn that Christmas day and the days preceding it often have a lower number of people who feel inclined to end their lives.

I’m not dismissing the struggles some may be dealing with or the immense sadness some may be honestly feeling at Christmas or any other time. Still, I’m not sure why I have ever accepted that some troubles could be too overwhelming to recover from when my own personal experiences have taught me better.

My Christmases have not always been filled with merry gatherings and acquiring the gifts of my dreams. I can recall at least three family deaths that occurred in the days just prior to Christmas and a separation from almost all of my family during another Christmas. Many divorces among my family members have regrettably changed the face of our get-togethers over the years. And plenty of Christmas celebrations that were financially strained and even one when I was homeless.

But yet through them all, Christmas brought hope, peace, joy, fresh inspiration and comfort as well as the promise of a more prosperous and satisfying New Year.

Certainly I’ve lamented when loved ones were missing. And coping with change has often not been easy. But for me, Christmas has always helped to make everything brighter rather than the opposite.

Perhaps it’s the remembrance Christmas brings of the coming of a promised Saviour. I suspect it is the fulfilling of that divine promise that brings reassurance at Christmastime today. The gift of Christ Jesus was God’s most precious gift to humanity — a gift that is always with us. His healing message affirmed we are not frail, fear-driven mortals but rather spiritually strong, immortal sons and daughters of our heavenly Father. This is encouraging news!

So, if you are one of those who is struggling to feel the promise of a better tomorrow or you’re feeling very alone, please remember that just as God kept his promise long ago and sent His son to be our Saviour, He will continue to send His children — you and me — whatever we need to lift us out of the deep pit we may feel trapped in.