Christmas is a stressful time of the year. It has always been that way for me. From the time I was a child I have more or less endured the coming and going of Christmas. Back home in Attawapiskat in the 1980s, when I was a kid, Christmas revolved around a lot of alcohol, drugs and general tragedy. My family did its best to make this time of the year happy but it was never easy.

On one hand, there was all the hype about what we should be getting for Christmas in terms of the latest new toys and gadgets and this information came to us through the television and local store. The music started early and the combination of the anxiety of watching the Christmas high build and such joyful music made things really kind of surreal and crazy.

Like all of the kids my age, I put on a pasted smile and did my best to climb on the Christmas high express, but I also knew that it was mostly just a bunch of baloney and the climax of this ride would be terrible. This is the time of the year when people use the excuse of Christmas to party hardy. Sure, in many cases families meet in get-togethers around good food, they open gifts around the Christmas tree and some might head off to church. Still, for most kids on remote First Nations, this is a time of year that is a fantasy. It is not real. The sentiments are thin and masking, and most of the celebration has nothing to do with making little kids happy. It has to do with getting drunk and high.

I have seen too much tragedy at Christmas. People try to buy into this fake reality that somehow buying a lot of presents and giving and receiving them is going to make somebody happy. For many poverty-stricken families in First Nations, children for the most part end up disappointed because they did not get their dream gift. On top of that, there is so much stress and anxiety leading to Christmas Day that most people seem to just end up running around in circles trying to figure out where the happy place is.

My experience has shown me that in communities and families that don’t have huge alcohol- and drug-abuse issues, people squeeze by but still they have to deal with a lot of pressure in meeting all kinds of deadlines that mostly revolve around duty and spending money. Even the most sane people go kind of crazy this time of the year and spend more money than they have trying to keep up with everybody else and making somebody happy with a gift. In the worst-case scenarios where communities and families are not functioning well, mostly due to poverty, alcohol and drugs, this time of the year is dangerous and tragic.

Perhaps in many cases, the best Christmas gift adults could give their children would be to just take a break from all the insanity and honestly ask themselves if they have a problem with alcohol or drugs. Visit online and go to the “Is A.A. For You?” link to their questionnaire to find out if you have a problem with alcohol or drugs.  If you find that your honest answers to these questions obviously point to the fact that you have a problem with alcohol or drugs then maybe the best gift you could give yourself and your family and friends is to come out of denial and reach out for help. You can start with your nearest Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous group in your area or contact your local drug-and-alcohol-addiction centre. It’s not hard to find as this information is in your local phone book or can be found through a quick search online. Many First Nations have Native drug-and-alcohol-abuse workers who you can talk to.

This could be your best Christmas ever or it could be another hellish merry-go-round. I have paid an enormous cost to be able to give these words as a gift to you, so Merry Christmas.