Dreams during the holidays bring happy memories, and recurrent anxieties.
The holiday season brings many anticipated pleasures, and many reasons for worry. Our dreams about Christmas express both happiness and anxiety, eagerly looking forward to the holiday but also expressing recurrent worries about every possible thing that could go wrong.
The Sleep and Dream Database (SDDb) includes 184 dream reports of 5+ words in length in which “Christmas” is mentioned at least once. Below are excerpts from a few of these dreams (identifying details have been removed). Without delving into the personal meanings of these dreams, we can still read them as fascinating commentaries from the unconscious on Christmas as a collective cultural experience.
Good times. The most positive Christmas dreams emphasize feelings of togetherness, play, and creativity.
“Dreamed about family Christmas time. Brought back happy memories of getting together with brother and sisters.”
“In my dream I was back home. It was Christmas break and my brother, his roommate and I were on a plane going home. When we got there, I went back to my high school and got to see all my friends again.”
“We were all in a hotel for Christmas. I don’t know why but it was a little sad. After a while, we walked outside and it began to snow. We all picked it up and had a snowball fight. It felt like a perfect day.”
“I dreamt that me and some other girl were singing in the living room to this Christmas music. We were trying to put “Away In a Manger” to a rap beat!”
“I was given a box with small parcels in it. I realized that this was a Christmas present. The dream became lucid and I thought, “This is a Christmas dream.” I was doing housework at the same time and noticed a bare Christmas tree in the house alongside a wall. I thought that it needed decorating before the party I would have that night.”
Misfortunes. Dreams also remind us of how very many things can go wrong during the holidays.
“My husband wants to plug in a string of Christmas lights that have a short circuit in them, or rather the switch in the wall does. The lights go on and off. I suggest he try another switch or plug.”
“I had a dream that it was Christmas Eve. My boyfriend and I arrived at my mother’s home in the afternoon and she wasn’t there, she didn’t show up till 5:30 because she was at the gym. This meant dinner wouldn’t be served till later than 8 which is when my boyfriend and I have to leave for a trip to his parents’ home. I was extremely irritated throughout the dream.”
“It was the night of my school’s Christmas pageant, and I was running late–very late. The pageant was supposed to start at 7:30, and I didn’t start dressing for it until 7:45. When I finally headed out the door, I was already a half hour late and I suddenly realized that I had no idea what I was supposed to do when I got there.”
“I was out Christmas shopping in a huge crowd and I got lost and couldn’t find my way out of the store.”
“I was buying trying a Christmas present for a family member but wherever I went it was out of stock or they didn’t have it.”
“I’m going to a Christmas party at my boss’s house, and I manage to spill my coffee, complete with generous amounts of soymilk, all over her couch.”
Nightmares. The holidays can bring out deeper fears, too.
“As a child, and a few times as an adult, I had a recurring dream at Christmas time, initially happy, involving spinning Christmas trees with colored lights. The multiple trees begin to spin faster, then unite into a single, large tree, and come closer. The dream turns darker, and the tree begins to be threatening, a whirl of pine needles and colored lights. Eventually I get sucked into the tree, and wake up in a sweat. To this day I use only white lights on my Christmas trees.”
“I was about 5 years old, and it was Christmas Eve. I was lying in bed, in the top bunk, and when I looked over at the bedroom door, there was a skeleton standing there, with a red Santa hat on, and a bag slung over its shoulder, as if full of gifts.”
Visitations. The most poignant Christmas dreams recall loved ones we have lost, and whose presence we miss most at this time of year.
“Last week I dreamed that my brother and I were wrapping Christmas gifts. He ran out of wrapping paper and asked if I had any. I didn’t think I had any left but miraculously pulled out a roll and handed it to him. Just as I did this I woke up. My brother died many years ago. He lived in another state and would visit for a week every Christmas. Every time he came he would wrap all his gifts in my wrapping paper which irritated me.”
“I dreamed that my mom (who is deceased) and I were going out to the stores and shopping for Christmas. I didn’t want to wake up, because if I did then she would be gone again. The dream seemed really real.”
“My grandmother passed away recently. My dream was about us baking cookies. I believe the dream comes from the many memories I have of us doing that at Christmas.”
These dream reports were provided mostly from American adults, most of whom are Christians. Given the universality of dreaming, we can predict that people who are members of non-Christian religious traditions also have dreams about their most sacred holiday celebrations, and these dreams also range across the emotional spectrum from happy anticipations to anxious nightmares.
Note: This post first appeared in Psychology Today, 12/14/20.