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Community finds holiday joy

Compassion and togetherness helps wring out stress during December
Mel Edgar

While the holiday season is traditionally a time for family togetherness and joy, for many the month of December can be a stressful reminder of economic and emotional stresses.

With almost one in four Powell River children living in poverty and a high level of income inequality among residents, according to Powell River’s Vital Signs report, the holidays can place unwelcome demands on people to make merry while pocketbooks run dry.

However, with a little compassion, care and attention, holiday stresses and overspending can be avoided, say several Powell River community members.

“Christmas comes with a lot of expectation,” said Powell River Community Health Centre’s mental health and addictions manager Nora Koros. “There can be stress around putting food on the table, let alone presents under the tree.”

Consumerism tends to play up the meaning of Christmas, and Koros said people need to be reminded it is only one day a year and not the entire winter season.

And while Koros said she loves the holidays herself, she is well aware that Christmas expectations can place unreasonable expectations on those living in poverty, as well as those with addiction and mental health issues.

“For many who have had trauma in their past, Christmas is not a happy time,” said Koros, “and every year Christmas comes around and reminds them of that.”

Being compassionate and understanding that not everyone loves Christmas can go a long way towards easing holiday tensions, said Koros.

“Be respectful,” she said. “If you notice someone not in the holiday spirit ask if this is tough time for them, and give them the opportunity to share.”

At Faith Lutheran Church, the second annual Blue Christmas Service is all about creating a safe place for those who might feel lonely or sad at Christmas, according to Reverend Brenda Nestegaard-Paul.

Nestegaard-Paul said the holidays can place a lot of pressure on those who have experienced loss or a loved one, relationship or even lost employment.

“For a lot of people Christmas isn’t a joyous time,” said Nestegaard-Paul. “Someone who is feeling blue can really feel like they are on the outside because they might think feelings of sadness aren’t acceptable during the holidays.”

The service involves lighting candles and singing and provides a place for people to just be with their emotions, said Nestegaard-Paul. The service runs from 5 pm on Monday, December 21, at Faith Lutheran Church on Ontario Avenue.

“People don’t have to be happy, happy, happy,” she said. “They can come and experience comfort, companionship and just be welcome as they are.”

Despite hard times and challenges, the community really steps up to help during the holidays said Powell River, Child and Family Services Society counsellor Aaron Bradley.

“Christmas can be a wonderful time of year,” she said, “as the rest of the year the community’s generosity may not be as tangible.”

Citing the work of Powell River’s longstanding Christmas Cheer Committee as an example, Bradley said the holiday season really highlights how the community comes together to help those in need.

Bradley said spending time together as a family, rather than spending money, can help alleviate some stress on holiday finances.

“I’m a fan of getting people together,” said Bradley, “not of gifts and consumerism.”

Powell River Family Place program facilitator Annabelle Tully-Barr agreed minimizing gift-giving can really help ramp down holiday stress.

“Your two-year-old has no idea it’s Christmas,” said Tully-Barr. “Your children remember how you made them feel, not what you buy for them.”

Things shared together as a family, such as carolling or even just hanging out, can help build positive memories, she said.

“Unhook yourself from the expectations,” said Tully-Barr. “If parents are under pressure to make things perfect and it’s making their child miserable, things are clearly not working.”

Tully-Barr said for the last few years she has joined others for carolling at Evergreen Extended Care Unit on Christmas Day.

“In the afternoon after all the craziness of Christmas is over, we go and sing,” she said. “It is a really nice way to remind yourself that Christmas isn’t just about you.”

Powell River’s Women’s Punk Rock Choir has also provided an additional carolling experience for those interested in a non-traditional Christmas activity.

“We yell all year,” said choir director Jenny Vishek, “but at Christmas we tone it down a bit and add bells and rhythms.”

Although the punk choir is not carolling this year, Vishek said women interested in dropping in for some stress relief can stop by to practice with the group from 6:30 pm, Tuesday, December 8, at Cranberry Community Hall.

“It is nice to get together and sing,” said Vishek.

Involvement in community activities is an important part of enjoying the holidays, according to longtime Westview Baptist Church volunteer Joan Menard, especially for those without children or with families who live far away.

“A lot of my friends have passed away and I don’t have any children,” said Menard. “Volunteering is part of the way I celebrate and live my life.”

For the last five years, Menard said her and her husband Len have volunteered at the Westview Baptist Church’s Christmas Day dinner.

“The dinner is for anyone who would otherwise be alone,” said Menard. “It’s for remembering what the holidays are about.”

A relatively recent Powell River transplant, Menard said part of the reason she volunteers is her happy memory of the first Christmas she spent in Powell River over 10 years ago.

“We moved into a new place and it was completely gutted,” she said, laughing. “I took Christmas wrapping paper and put it up on the walls and we spent the holiday with friends.”

Just getting people together is what the Christmas holidays are all about, said Menard.

“Christmas can be a sad time,” she said, “but as long as you stay connected to others you can’t be lonely.”

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