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What A Christmas Carol Teaches Us About Ourselves this Holiday Season

As I settled down to watch “The Muppet Christmas Carol” with my seven-year-old kiddo earlier this month, I found myself falling into my often tread path of wondering how I can tie timeless tales like Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol into therapy with my clients. I was struck by the parallels between this story of Ebenezer Scrooge’s journey of self-exploration and the experiences of so many clients I have worked with over the years. What stood out most was the influence of different time perspectives, as was eloquently symbolized through Dickens’ spirits of the Past, the Present, and the Yet to Come. As the story proceeded, I reflected on how this holiday time of year provides the context for us to consider our relationship with our self through the mirror of time.

The Past

As Scrooge is accompanied through his past, he encounters himself at various points in his childhood and adulthood through the snapshot of his Christmas memories. The simple joys, the painful moments, the dreams dashed, the triumphs of success… we can all relate to some if not all of these. I have often found that the winter holidays particularly evoke strong memories of loss for both my clients and me. While joyfully singing carols with my child, for example, I feel a pang of sadness as remember my late father singing the same songs with me. During the holidays it can be so important for us to give space for the memories of times long gone by and of people who are no longer in our lives, and to honor both the difficult and the wonderful feelings that arise.

The Present

Even in Victorian England the hustle and bustle we associate with today’s winter holidays were clearly present. There are many expectations of how we observe the holidays, and we may find ourselves hurriedly running through a checklist of things to be done. Most often these expectations are layered onto an already busy life, such that the associated opportunities for holiday cheer feel overwhelming. I at times relate to Scrooge’s defiant “bah humbug” when he is faced with his nephew’s indefatigable Christmas cheer, which I believe speaks to the challenge of beliefs we hold that we should be merry even when our energy in the moment cannot match that. I also see how difficult it can be to hold this holiday spirit when we are aware of tremendously difficult things happening in our world regardless of the hope that this be a season for peace. Though we may not have it within our power to fully change the circumstances of the present moment, taking time for reflection, mindfulness, and connection with both our self and those we care for is as vital this time of year as in any other time.

The Yet to Come

I fully acknowledge the future is tricky. Pondering what may yet be in our lives can bring about a sense of hope or of foreboding (and often both). For Scrooge, reflecting on his past and his present illustrated a path full of fear. Trepidation like this can be the reason a client comes in for therapy (and I have been similarly motivated by this anxiety as a client myself). Other times, hope for connection with what we value most in life leads us to change (whether through therapy or otherwise), as it seems Scrooge was able to learn and enact when he woke on Christmas morning.

I believe Scrooge’s journey across time ultimately cultivated his sense of joy and optimism when he realized his free will to view his life through a different lens. This then opened him up to the vulnerability of connecting with others and the immense purpose this had always had in his life, no matter how disconnected he at times felt from it. Though we will likely not have our own experience of visiting spirits helping us toward transformation, we can all benefit from guides who scaffold our traversing of the challenges of the past, the present, and the future. Therapy is one means toward this, though certainly not the only one. I encourage us all to take a page from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol this holiday season by considering where we are in our journeys and whether the time is right to seek a wise helper in navigating our path through 2024.

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Written by June Ashley, Ph.D.

Licensed Psychologist and Clinical Director

Ellie Mental Health Denver Tech Center