Christmas-Related Phobiasby Jerry Kennard, Ph.D. Medical Reviewer
A phobia is an overwhelming and debilitating fear of an object, place, situation, feeling, or animal. A person with a phobia experiences an unrealistic and exaggerated sense of danger. We classify phobias as either specific (such as a fear of wasps) or complex (such as social phobia).
A common question is “how many phobias are there?” Because specific phobias can relate to anything, the best answer is probably “countless.” But here are a few known phobias that can be associated with Christmas.
Christmas is a time of color and sparkle — but that can spell trouble for selaphobics, who have a fear of flashing lights. Phobias sometimes develop through a negative association. A person with selaphobia may, for example, have experienced migraines or seizures from flashing lights. Alternatively, flashing lights may trigger traumatic memories from childhood or perhaps military conflict.
According to tradition, it’s bad luck to refuse a kiss beneath the mistletoe. But a person with cyssanophobia would prefer to take their chances. Cyssanophobia refers to the fear of kissing beneath the mistletoe. Realistically, the fear is less likely to do with the mistletoe and more about being grabbed and kissed by a stranger or just someone you’d prefer to keep at arm’s length.
Perhaps you’ve managed to avoid them all year, but when Christmas arrives, so do the relatives. Syngenesophobia, sometimes called familiaphobia, refers to a fear of relatives, which can include close family, such as siblings, or more distant relations. Whether it’s demanding in-laws, the embarrassing uncle, or that you find yourself regressing to childhood when bullying parents arrive, this fear results in avoidance, physical illness, and more fear itself.
A big roasted turkey is the traditional Christmas meal for many people, but a person with meleagrisphobia may not be happy at the table. Meleagrisphobia refers to a fear of turkeys. Some meleagrisphobics are fine with the cooked variety, but don’t ask them to go anywhere near a live turkey.
A traditional Christmas in Britain includes Christmas crackers: decorated cardboard tubes that are filled with prizes and “crack” open with a bang. Just watch the eyes squint and faces turn away as the Christmas crackers are pulled. Many people have an aversion to loud noises, but some people absolutely fear them. Phonophobia, also referred to as ligyrophobia or sonophobia, is a fear of loud noises. Don’t be surprised if you see a phonophobic leave the room during the cracker pull.
Who doesn’t like a present? A person with ghabhphobia, that’s who. Here’s one example of this phobia: A person with social anxiety who hates the attention placed on them once they receive a gift. Everyone stares at them as they unwrap their gift, and this is followed by the need to smile, appear happy, and possibly answer questions. They lose the enjoyment and generosity of gift giving in the anxiety that surrounds it.
As everyone gathers around the table for a hearty Christmas meal, the person with phagophobia starts feeling very nervous. Phagophobia refers to a fear of eating or swallowing. Typically, the fear centers around choking or vomiting. But don’t confuse phagophobia with cibophobia, which is a fear of food and is related to anorexia, bulimia, and other eating disorders.
People may have mixed feelings about the Christmas season, but someone with Christougenniatikophobia has a full-blown fear of Christmas itself. The phobia typically develops in early childhood and may overlap or include some of the phobias previously listed. Fear of Father Christmas or Santa Claus (santaphobia), parties (simbosiophobia), or other Christmas rituals can all feed into a general phobia of the Christmas season.
The Christmas Eve or Christmas morning church service remains a strong tradition in many families. Unfortunately, the person with ecclesiophobia fears church. This could be a fear of either the church building itself or what the church represents. There may be many reasons for this, ranging from imagery (Jesus on the cross) to building size, smells, or an association of church with funerals — just to mention a few.
Phobias tend to respond very well to psychological treatment. Various treatment options are available and these include medication, cognitive behavioral therapy, hypnotherapy, and counseling. There are self-help options available as well, but self-help is probably most effective when used alongside some form of talk therapy.