By Norris Burkes Dec 25 2022

This Christmas, do you find yourself asking why you aren’t as happy as everyone else seems to be? Has Christmas cheer become an elusive commodity? If so, where do you get Christmas cheer?

In an effort to answer those questions, a UK pie-making company called Mr. Kipling commissioned a company called Nurosense to define the “feeling of Christmas.” The pie makers wanted to know if was possible to reduce the Christmas spirit to the right combination of sights, sounds and smells.

The study, reported by England’s Daily Mail, subjected 30 female participants to various Christmas sights, smells and sounds. Afterward, they asked the women to give a score of 1 to 10 for how Christmassy they felt.

The least Christmassy combination seems to be candles, classical music and a pine smell, which scored 2.95. Candles, carols and the smell of oranges scored a bit higher at 6.2.

The winner-winner-Christmas-dinner combo was candles, carols and cinnamon with the highest rating of 7.3.

However, for some of you, those same sights, sounds and smells may have you crying more than smiling or laughing.

If that’s you, you may be affected by Seasonal Affect Disorder (SAD) aka, “Winter Depression.” According to a Boston University report, you needn’t feel alone; an estimated 10 million Americans suffer from it.

SAD may be worsened by unrealistic expectations, credit card debt, family conflict or catastrophizing your existing problems. (See my recent column.)

The whole SAD picture reminds me of the unmarried pregnant girl whose fiancé was already thinking divorce. She figured her family would certainly disown her. Her community would likely stone her.

She was from a humble beginning with no royal lineage or marketable skills. Her situation was unimaginably bad.

Yet the scripture suggests that Mary somehow found a way to rejoice under these horrible circumstances. Expecting the birth of the Lord Jesus, she found the faith to say,

“I’m bursting with God-news; I’m dancing the song of my Savior God. God took one good look at me and look what happened— I’m the most fortunate woman on earth!

What God has done for me will never be forgotten, the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others. His mercy flows in wave after wave on those who are in awe before him” (The Message Luke 1:46-48).

I hear a lot of inspiration in Mary’s story because I’ve known overwhelming depression twice in my life. Don’t judge. I’d dare to say few can see what I’ve seen as a chaplain and still come out the other side unscathed.

But help began with an admission that I was overwhelmed and needed help. It took some time, but with the assistance of family, friends and pastoral supervisors, counseling, and clinical intervention I found my way out. 

Even now, there are still days when I sense the foggy fingers of depression returning. When that happens, I double down on the three-prong strategy that’s always helped me thrive beyond surviving.

First, I center myself with mediation or prayer.

Then, I open my eyes and reach outside the limits of my own needs to help those around me.  

Finally, and most important of all, I surround myself with those who are able to affirm my calling, hear my heart and grant me grace.

As this three-prong strategy reasserts its place in my faith I, like Mary, begin to see myself as favored.

And thankfully, no matter how much my Christmas spirit has suffered, I’ve never had trouble downing a few pieces of pie.


If you need help, reach out to your physician, clergy or local mental health provider. If you need assistance finding one, call the national hotline at 1-800-662-4357.


Norris Burkes is a syndicated columnist, national speaker and author. He is board-certified in the Association of Professional Chaplains. Send comments to or 10556 Combie Rd. Suite 6643 Auburn, CA 95602 or via voicemail (843) 608-9715.