Gulliver guards while I nap.

While for some people December is a season of joy, filled with the happiness of giving and receiving, it can be a tough time of year for others. Amidst the happy revelers ringing their bells and singing their carols, and among those who live for and love the holidays, there are those who walk alone past the decorations and crèche scenes with their heads down.

This time of year arrives in a rush, with a distinct emotional bang right after Thanksgiving, as the stores begin to exert high-powered pressure on us to buy, buy, buy. No one escapes its power, whether they love “Black Friday” or whether it brings them only melancholy.

Sometimes our histories return in a powerful wave and swamp us during the week of Hanukkah or on December 25th: instead of picturing fond memories, some may relive a childhood when Christmas was perhaps too expensive for a strapped family; perhaps they re-experience an adolescence dominated by the absence of one parent, either through divorce or even death; or perhaps it is their adulthood, when the season that embodies peace for some brings the difficulties of life to others, in a flood of loneliness and depression.

Many fight to overcome such obstacles, tackling emotions head on, but sometimes find themselves isolated regardless, unable to do more than heat up a can of soup rather than baste a turkey. Some do not have a Christmas tree or a menorah, and some have no family nearby with whom to celebrate. Sometimes there are holiday gatherings to which they are invited, but of which they never truly feel a part-and sometimes they are not invited at all, but watch from a distance as others party hearty.

But if they have a dog, they are extremely fortunate: our canine companions can comfort us through all of life’s travails, including holidays and birthdays and anniversaries. When I was clinically depressed after my divorce some seventeen years ago, and my illness kept me from managing daily life, my Dalmatian, Gulliver, became my therapy dog and helped me to survive. Christmas seemed hollow to me at that time, but the compassion in his eyes brought me back to the joy of other years, and reminded me how lucky I was to have custody of my children on that special day.

Today, I have three wonderful dogs who buoy my spirits with their rambunctious natures. I cannot help but laugh with pleasure at their antics as they steal the stuffed Santa’s elves from the mantelpiece, or bark wildly at the huge tree we barely manage to cram into the living room.

Recently, a friend on Facebook commented that when you have a dog with whom you can commune, all-encompassing depression and sadness just can’t be as intense. Everyone must fight his personal battles on his own–sometimes successfully, sometimes not–but ultimately, it can be our dogs who save our lives. With their patient faces and comforting presence, they reassure us that January is just around the corner.

With the help of my Dalmatians, I have joined the ranks of those who are happy to see Christmas come, (but perhaps equally happy to see its commercialism go). I continue to empathize with those who still feel sadness as the season progresses and those who are not as blessed as I am with close family and friends. And it is my dogs, as they tear open packages that hide fragrant bones, who keep me celebrating the holidays, and yet always in touch with the emotions of years past. What was once true for me is still true for many. I remind myself to remember this–and for me, that is the true spirit of the season.

How do you feel about the holidays and celebration, or the holidays and depression, or even the holidays and your dogs? Send me an email at and let me know!


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