Christmas is nearly here and, while most of us are frantically scraping together our last few pennies and trying desperately to find an appropriate gift for awful Aunt Debbie, a small minority are so paralysed by fear that they dare not leave their homes. Christougenniatiko dentrophobia may not be a common one, perhaps because it takes longer to pronounce than it does to cure, but it is still no less crippling.
The term refers, rather obscurely, to the fear of Christmas trees, with “Christougenniatiko” or “Χριστουγεννιάτικο” meaning “Christmas” and “dentro” or “Δέντρο” meaning “tree” in Greek. But what is it about those sparkly spruces that terrifies phobes so much? With their pointed pines, blazing hot bulbs, and imposing stature, Christmas trees may not be quite as innocent as we’ve all been led to believe.
In fact, Christougenniatiko dentrophobes might be on to something. Every Christmas in the US, an average of approximately 250 people are injured and 40 are killed by incidents directly involving Christmas trees and decorations. That means you’re over 80 times more likely to be killed by a Christmas tree than you are by a shark. These evergreen killing machines are everywhere, and they’re just waiting to strike.
Like most phobias, many people fear Christmas trees because they’ve had some traumatic event related to one. Perhaps, as a child, the tree fell on them and caused them some horrific injury. Or maybe they forgot to turn the Christmas lights off one night and, like some festive flame of death, the tree went up in smokes. Let’s be honest, taking a giant piece of dry wood and strapping dangerously hot electrical equipment to it doesn’t seem like the wisest course of action.
In other cases, the source of the phobia may be a genuine physical aversion to the ferocious firs in question. Unfortunately traditional Christmas trees are a haven for mould, meaning that their simple presence can aggravate any respiratory condition. Sufferers of ailments such as asthma, sarcoidosis, or even simply hayfever may find themselves sniffling, wheezing, and coughing their way through the holiday season. When you’re practically blinded by swollen eyes and your gifts are covered in a thin layer of mucus, it’s understandable that you may develop a hatred for your arboreal adversaries.
Yet the phobia may not be localised to just the trees, as Christougenniatiko dentrophobia is part of a veritable constellation of festive phobias, including but not limited to: Festivalisophobia, fear of Christmas and all Christmas-related things; Fayophobia, the fear of elves; Syngenesophobia, fear of relatives and relations; Ghabhphobia, the fear of presents or gifts; Chiniophobia, fear of snow; Partiophobia, fear of parties; and Prasinosophobia, fear of the colour green. With all of these fears flying around, having a strange man come crawling down your chimney may seem like the least of your worries.
As with all phobias, the best way to conquer Christougenniatiko dentrophobia is by treating both the symptoms and the source, which may prove more difficult in this particular instance since the terror comes but once a year. Psychologists and psychotherapists employ techniques such as meditation and breathing exercises to help combat anxiety attacks, although desensitisation to the object of fear and confronting the original source of the fear is what will cure the phobia itself. Whether it be reliving that time you accidentally got pine needles stuck up your nose or simply screaming your way through a snowy forest, the only way to conquer fear is to face it head on. More intensive measures include talk therapy, psychiatric counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy, and even hypnotherapy.
Sometimes the road to recover may seem long, and it can be hard to finally branch out, but we should all remember that fear is our daily constant; it is what connects us and what threatens to consume us. Whether it be a fear of Christmas trees, gifts, or switchblade-brandishing elves, in some way we all have fear and we will always have fear, for time immemorial. So next time you invite good old Uncle Derek over for Christmas and he spends most of the day shiftily glancing at your shimmering shrub, have a little compassion.