Christmas music

It’s beginning to feel a bit like Christmas (to paraphrase the song). To help get you in the mood we’re doing a playlist of well-known festive hits. Plus one or two Christmas-related tracks that may have passed you by.

If you have checked out our #SongsForSoundMinds playlist you will know that we like to mix a bit of music trivia with some suggestions for good mental health.  Our new playlist #The12PlaysOfChristmas is no different.

Alongside some slightly nerdy music facts, there will be tips for staying positive through what might be a difficult holiday period. We start with 3 Christmas hits from the early 1980s.

Wham, ‘Last Christmas’

Pop superstar George Michael penned this perennial festive hit, ‘Last Christmas’ in 1984 and it was released by Wham, the band George played in alongside Andrew Ridgely. To this day it is the biggest selling UK single never to reach number 1.

In the year of its original release it was held off the number 1 spot by Band Aid’s all-conquering, ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’  Wham mirrored the stars of Band Aid and donated the royalties from ‘Last Christmas’ to the charity efforts in Ethiopia.

Coping with a broken heart at Christmas

The song itself is a poignant tale of frustrated love; a man ditched by his sweetheart after expressing his love. If you are recovering from a relationship breakdown yourself you may be wondering how you are going to cope with the hustle and bustle of Christmas. Especially when everyone else seems happily coupled.

However, as the song’s story relates, a failed romance can be a step to finding ‘someone special.’  It is possible to put regret in the past and to move on.  Indeed the end of a relationship can be a liberating experience.

Rather than fighting for something that was hurtful and time-limited it is possible to look forward with hope and make plans for the future.

Paul McCartney, ‘Pipes of Peace’

Christmas isn’t mentioned in the lyrics of this Paul McCartney track from 1983.  The main reason ‘Pipes of Peace’ takes its place in every self-respecting Christmas Greatest Hits compilation is the accompanying music video.

In it, we are transported to Christmas Day in 1914 when an impromptu football match took place between the British and German armies during the First World War. The news has been full of stories of the end of the First World War and that Christmas truce was a rare moment of humanity in a brutal campaign.

Macca is one of the most successful pop artists ever.  One of his many claims to fame is that he is the only person to have number one singles as a solo artist, a duo (with Michael Jackson among others), a trio (Wings), a quartet (The Beatles) and a quintet (‘Let it Be’ was credited to The Beatles and Billy Preston).

Tell stories, play games and be together at Christmas

 Family get-togethers over the Christmas period can be a good time to tell family stories, tragic as well as funny.  Storytelling can help everyone feel part of something bigger which is an important part of giving life meaning.

We enjoy being part of ‘the gang’ whether it’s with family, friends or work colleagues.  Feelings of togetherness and connectedness are good for even the most introverted of us.  Playing board games together, laughing at a well-worn Christmas DVD or going for Christmas Day walks all add to the fun.

The Pretenders, ‘2000 Miles’

The lyrics of this Pretenders’ track would lead you to think it’s an ode to long-distance love at Christmas.  Although this is not an uncommon theme for songs released at this time of year (‘Blue Christmas’ by Elvis Presley is only one example) it is not the motivation behind this hit from the Pretenders’ peak period.

The subject of this track, written by lead singer, Chrissie Hynde, is James Honeymann-Scott, the band’s original guitarist. Honeymann-Scott had died the previous year from drug-related heart failure at the age of just 25.  The track’s melancholic strains, together with the chiming lead guitar line, remind us that Christmas can bring sadness as well as joy.

It’s ok not to be ok at Christmas

Sometimes, the festive celebrations lead us only to thoughts of those who are no longer with us.  If someone close to you has died the prospect of Christmas may seem unbearable.  Grief takes its toll and it’s a process we all have to come to terms with.

Remember, it’s okay to feel sad, angry or upset. Even though you might experience great pressure to put on a happy face at Christmas time.  These feelings are natural particularly if the bereavement was recent.  Be aware that you may need to put time aside to look after yourself.

But this time of year can also be a positive opportunity. A chance to remember happy times you had with those who have passed away. Tell funny stories, share favourite memories and reflect on their importance in your life.

Christmas can be an opportunity to cherish and keep alive the memories you have of them.

Counselling and support services

The Christmas period can be a difficult time for many of us. Whether it is due to a difficult relationship or memories of a lost loved one, we understand that not everyone is going to have a ‘happy’ Christmas this year.

At The Spark, we have been providing counselling and support to individuals, couples, families and children for over 50 years. Our aim is to help clients to better understand their emotions and experiences, and to find ways to deal with them.

Find out more information about The Spark and our counselling services for individuals, couples and families.

Contact us via our contact form or freephone 0808 802 0050 to talk about how counselling could help you.

stress free Christmas

Trying to achieve a stress free Christmas can feel like an impossible task.

Everything will be busy, last minute and crammed into time we simply do not have.

At The Spark, however, we disagree and believe that a stress free Christmas is possible!

21 tips for a stress free Christmas

To help you de stress this year we have put together 21 tips for an enjoyable Christmas from start to finish.

stress free Christmas

Through November and December, The Spark will be posting a tip a day to help you enjoy the festive season instead of feeling like it is something to survive.

From advice on handling relationships and budgeting, to low-cost way to entertain the family The Spark wants to help you relax this Christmas.

Follow our 21 tips here or on Twitter and Facebook.

Stress free Christmas tips

Christmas tip 1: Get a plan

Christmas tip 2: Do a bit at a time

Christmas tip 3: Stick to a Christmas budget

Christmas tip 4: The Christmas ‘to do’ list

Christmas tip 5: Give gifts because you want to

Christmas tip 6: Switch off Christmas TV ads

Christmas tip 7: Ditch the pursuit of a ‘perfect’ Christmas

Christmas tip 8: Enjoy the build up to Christmas Day

Christmas tip 9: Dear Santa… share you own Christmas list

Christmas tip 10: Enjoy the simple things

Christmas tip 11: Get some exercise with a winter walk

Christmas tip 12: Dark nights don’t need to mean no fun

Christmas tip 13: Help others this Christmas

Christmas tip 14: Spend time with people

Christmas tip 15: Get some Christmas helpers (aka you don’t have to do it all yourself)

Christmas tip 16: Talk about ghosts of Christmas past

Christmas tip 17: Say please and thank you this Christmas

Christmas tip 18: Christmas family fun doesn’t have to cost a lot

Christmas tip 19: Get some rest!

Christmas tip 20: Enjoy some ‘just us’ time

Christmas tip 21: Forget about the ‘perfect’ Christmas

The Christmas gift set: a cautionary tale (with tongue firmly in-cheek)

Other brands of gift set are available.

The Office for National Statistics has estimated that, in the run-up to Christmas, a gift set will go through an average of three giftings before the final giftee is given the item on Christmas Eve and it’s too late to pass it on. At this point the final recipient either keeps it for next year’s gift-set-pass-the-parcel or sticks it in the back of the bathroom cabinet and never thinks of it again.

This of course is a complete lie but there is a grain of truth in there somewhere. According to Wikipedia, this is what Christmas has become:

 “Because gift-giving and many other aspects of the Christmas festival involve heightened economic activity … The economic impact of Christmas has grown steadily over the past few centuries in many regions of the world”

Finding fun on the high stress pre-Christmas

Let me start by saying this is not a rant against Christmas consumerism. We live in a consumerist society and Christmas is bound to be part of that. It is just a suggestion that the holidays are meant to be fun and that the card and gift buying, for most people, is clearly not.

In December the shops are piled high with things that nobody really wants, to be bought by people who probably cannot really afford them for people they don’t really see that often. All of this seems to be based on the horrible anxiety that someone might give you a card or a present and you haven’t got them one. And the ultimate expression of this anxiety is the Christmas gift set.

The Christmas gift set

gift set
The ultimate insulting gift set – moustache removal & a foot ‘sander’.

Christmas gift sets are either insulting by implication – the implication being that you know little about the person you are giving it to and thus have to select the most generic Christmas present known to man. Or just plain insulting – think hair removal kits and body wash sets. The upshot of this is that we spend a lot of Christmas being anxious, skint and insulted. And by early January the charity shops will be groaning under an avalanche of gift sets.

Someone I know, in a particularly explosive reaction to seeing a Christmas hair-removal kit gift set (Happy Christmas, Darling, and… um… would you mind doing something about the ‘tache?) decided to stop buying cards and presents at Christmas completely. Here is what happened. Year One: 3 people were a bit miffed; Year Two: 1 person was a bit miffed; Year Three: nobody was a bit miffed.

In the 17th century, laugh-a-minute revolutionary Oliver Cromwell and the Parliamentary Party cancelled Christmas in England. This was a bit extreme and not at all necessary. By all means, choose presents you can afford for people you care about and if you have children, please try to avoid home-crafting their presents or get them a charity goat (you know why).

Enjoy the bits of Christmas you like

There are lots of very nice things about Christmas. Two public holidays which can be eked out with your remaining annual leave leads those of all faiths and none to say ‘Thank you Jesus!’ In 1882, less than three years after Edison unveiled the lightbulb, Edward Hibberd Johnson produced a garland of small, flashing coloured lights which he rigged to a revolving Christmas tree. That is what I call an inventor!

Just do the bits you like: enjoy the food, enjoy the company and enjoy the lights. If someone gets you a card (or a gift set) and you haven’t bought them one – the most apocalyptic thing that may happen is that they will be a bit miffed – but they probably won’t.

Christmas stress can often feel like an inevitable, unavoidable part of the festive season. A time to just batten down the hatches and power through. But it does not have to be like that!

25 ways to deal with Christmas stress

We have put together an advent calendar of tips for a festive de-stress. Simple ways to help you enjoy Christmas from start to finish. Throughout December we will be adding a new tip every day that can help make for a less stressful and happier festive season.


Christmas stress - set a budgetDay 1: Set a Christmas budget and stick to it

We are encouraged by retailers to spend our way to happiness at Christmas, often leading to debt and relationship problems as a result.

Agree a budget with your partner/family for gifts and entertaining and stick to it.

Check out our blog on Christmas finance tips for more advice.


Day 2: Plan ahead

No matter how much we might wish to put it off, Christmas is coming. In the midst of busy modern life it might feel like too much to think about.

However planning out what you want to do, who you (really) want to buy gifts for and sort who is hosting who on Christmas Day will make things a lot less stressful.

So grab that Christmas tress by the branches and get planning!

christmas-presents-giftsDay 3: Do a bit at a time

Instead of having to blitz your Christmas gift shopping in one weekend, do a little bit at a time.

Similarly, if you are hosting family and friends during the festive season start stocking up gradually with what you need to avoid that nightmare supermarket mega-shop on 23rd December.

To do listDay 4: The Christmas to do list

To do lists can be very helpful, especially at Christmas. They can also be a cause of stress if we aren’t realistic about those lists.

Before you start one think for a moment about what you will realistically be able to achieve in the time you have available. Separate out the ‘must dos’ and the ‘would be nice to dos’. You’ll quickly see that your real to do list is much shorter, meaning you have time and more enthusiasm for the nice to dos.

christmas-angelDay 5: Perfect Christmas or good enough?

The odds on a ‘perfect Christmas’ for any individual, couple or family is probably as good as snow on Christmas Day in Dubai. So embrace the imperfection of the season and stop looking for ‘perfection’ in every meal, gift and decoration.

For couples with children the same applies to parenting – look for good enough, not perfection from yourself and your kids.

Day 6: Dear Santa…

Help with the Christmas stress of gift giving by dropping some hints or pointing out the things you like.

Encourage friends and family to do the same for you. And for grown-ups, why not write your own letter to Santa? It might sound cheesy but it’s really helpful (and fun!).

hug-cuddle-winterDay 7: Remember what Christmas is about

Christmas is a time for family, for friendship and spending time together.

When the Christmas stress levels start to rise thinking about what present to get Aunty Mary, remember what it’s all about.

Christmas stress

Day 8: Ignore the Christmas TV adverts

Whether it is the John Lewis advert making us cry or the ‘perfect’ Christmas presented by every shop in the country, TV adverts can be a source of Christmas stress.

Make a cup of tea during the ad break or mute the sound and free yourself from the ads that often leave us feeling like our Christmas will never be good enough.


christmas stress listen to musicDay 9: Enjoy simple things

December will be a busy month for pretty much everyone.

Give yourself a break and enjoy something simple like a hot cup of cocoa or tea, listen to some of your favourite music and chill out for 15 minutes.

Feeling recharged you’ll be more effective at ticking off that to-do list.

Christmas stress Day 10: Get some Christmas helpers

Encourage the whole family to get involved in preparations.

Decorating, coming up with gift ideas, tidying the house for Christmas visitors.

Not only will it ease the burden for the person who usually does it all, it will help make everyone feel included and part of the Christmas build-up.

winter-walk christmas stressDay 11: Enjoy the build-up to Christmas

We focus so much on Christmas Day itself that the rest of the festive season passes in a blur.

Instead, enjoy the moments before Christmas Day: a walk in the crisp winter air; the pleasure of getting a gift for someone you love; the Christmas lights.

christmas stressDay 12: The ghost of Christmas past

For a lot of people Christmas is a difficult time because of past experiences, bereavement or major life events. There is pressure to be happy at Christmas which can make you feel a lot worse.

Consider talking about these issues with a professional counsellor or a loved one about how to manage those difficult emotions.

walk-nature-winter-christmas-stressDay 13: Take a long winter walk

Walking is a great way to de-stress.

Get out and enjoy some time away from the TV, present wrapping, Christmas card writing and games consoles. Consider leaving mobile phones on silent and enjoy the natural world around you.

With a rosy glow in your cheeks, head home and indulge in number 9 of our earlier tips.

painting-drawing-christmas-stressDay 14: Indoor hobbies

The weather during December (and January, February and probably March) is not always great. Dark mornings and nights cut down on opportunities for outdoor time.

So consider trying something indoor instead: creative paper crafts (helpful for DIY Christmas cards); knitting (bizarrely still very cool); reading a good book or picking up that musical instrument that is gathering dust in the corner.

christmas-stressDay 15: Spend time with people

If you live on your own the festive season can bring about feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Try to take an active approach to avoiding this. Accept invitations to parties and get togethers. Why not organise something for other people you know who are in the same boat. Ultimately just try and be sociable.


candles-christmas-stressDay 16: Christmas candles

As the nights draw in candles can be a nice way to brighten up your home and provide a relaxing atmosphere at home.

Remember however to always extinguish candles and never leave them unattended.

Check out Scottish Fire and Rescue’s Festive safety guide for candles.

volunteerDay 17: Consider helping others at Christmas

It’s easy to get caught up in the ‘I want’ mind-set of Christmas. After all, it’s what shops want us to do! But it takes away from the themes of love, peace and goodwill at Christmas.

Get a little perspective by helping out a charity at Christmas. You’ll be helping people who need it most and will get a more grounded perspective on the whole festive season.

board-game-2Day 18: Play more games than just Charades

Charades is a Christmas party staple but think outside of the box this year. There are literally hundreds of (free) games from around the world that are great to play at Christmas.

From the delightfully bonkers Danish game Pakkeleg (Google it!) to The Drunken Artist (a twist on Pictionary) there is plenty of fun to be had!


christmas-baking-stressDay 19: Favourite Christmas memories

Think about the things that have made Christmas special in the past for you individually, as a couple or a family.

Chances are when you really think about it you’ll rediscover things you haven’t done for years which will make for a great festive season.


christmas stressDay 20: Say please and thank you

For a time of year that is supposed to be about goodwill to all, Christmas stress seems to up people’s rudeness levels.

In the busyness of the season we often forget our manners and, without intending it, are rude to family, friends and strangers.

So this festive season commit to always saying please and thank you.


christmas stressDay 21: It’s ok not to be ok

We often feel like we have to be happy at Christmas. That is not always possible and it is absolutely and totally ok not to be ok at Christmas time.

Speak to a close, trusted friend about what you are experiencing or better still, look in to counselling.


hug-cuddle-winterDay 22: You do not have to spend all of Christmas with family

The festive season is definitely an opportunity to spend time with family. But that does not mean we have to spend all of our time with them.

Carve out some time for you or you and your partner. For families it is important to have mum, dad and the kids only time too.


sledging-christmas-stressDay 23: Fun with the family doesn’t have to cost money

Ice skating, festive films at the cinema, shopping trips, panto – the list of festive season activities which are not cheap is almost endless. But having quality time together does not have to cost.

Try a good old fashioned board game that has been gathering dust in the cupboard. For parents remember what you enjoyed most about Christmas during your childhood. Surprisingly, children wired in to the digital world tend to really enjoy simple things that offer actual and not virtual interaction.

combat-christmas-stress-with-sleepDay 24: Get some sleep

This probably sounds silly but with the usual ‘running around like a headless chicken’ pre-Christmas followed by late nights and early starts (especially if you have kids) sleep often gets forgotten about.

Missing out on a proper night’s sleep is bad for us physically and mentally so make sure you are getting your zzzz’s.

snowflake-christmas-tree-christmas-stressDay 25: Just enjoy Christmas Day

On Christmas Day forget about the ‘perfect’ day and enjoy the special moments.

Savour the smiles of loved ones receiving gifts and forget about whether the turkey will be moist or not. Laugh as the kids try to teach Grandpa how to play Call of Duty instead of worrying about whether you got everyone a ‘perfect’ present.

Merry Christmas!

Support this Christmas

Stress, anxiety, depression and relationship issues are very common at Christmas and during the festive season. The Spark offers counselling and support for individuals, couples, young people and families across Scotland.

Find out more about counselling or complete an enquiry form. You can also call our enquiries team on freephone 0808 802 0050.

Christmas and New Year opening hours:

The Spark Counselling (enquiries team and appointments) will observe the following opening times during the 2016 Christmas and New Year holidays.

22 December 2016: 11am – 12.30pm

23 – 28 December 2016: closed

29 December 2016: 10am – 2.00pm

30 December – 3 January 2017: closed

Services return to normal hours on Wednesday 4 January 2017.