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REF NO.: 133

SUBJECT: Women more likely to feel Christmas stress

DATE: Dec. 8

Men and women relate differently to stress during the holidays, according to Dr. Leslie Bella, a researcher in Memorial’s School of Social Work. Her book, The Christmas Imperative, examines the exhaustion and frustration that women feel about producing Christmas for their families. In her research, Dr. Bella questioned why women should feel so strongly about this particular holiday and just what it is about Christmas that makes it feel like such a trap for so many people.

“Christmas has its roots as a pagan festival that was banned by the Puritans,” Dr. Bella explained. “This changed with the Victorians and the stories of Washington Irving and Charles Dickens who created warm, fuzzy stories like The Christmas Carol and emphasized the concept of the lord of the manor. But these stories were still not enough to make women feel responsible for the Christmas production. The invention of women as the guardian of the home was promoted in women’s magazines.”

According to Dr. Bella, it was in women’s magazines that the theme of Christmas grew larger than life, right alongside how to be the perfect wife and mother. Christmas is further romanticized through literature targeted at women like the Harlequin Christmas Romances. The department store is another mechanism in the Christmas machine. Eaton’s in Toronto held the first Santa Claus parade at the start of the 20th century, and ever since children everywhere have identified Santa Claus with Christmas.

The Christmas Imperative also examines how Christmas has been twisted to produce a desperate need to buy more and more things and, as a result, has become increasingly commercialized. Dr. Bella believes that women, being the major buyers of things, are the ones who feel the stress of shopping more acutely than their male counterparts. Christmas was, as Dr. Bella’s research demonstrates, invented at a time when both parents were not working and there was more free time to shop and plan for the holidays.

“How are we supposed to do it all now without the risk of complete exhaustion,” Dr. Bella asked. “I strongly encourage families to sit down before Christmas and work out what is really important to them. Simplify so you can do the things that really matter and budget to avoid unnecessary debt.”

The Christmas Imperative by Dr. Leslie Bella was published by Fernwood Publishing in Halifax, Nova Scotiain 1992. It is available from

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