Whatever your religious or non-religious convictions, the holidays hit most of us pretty hard. I know very few people who can thread their way through these loaded days, go on with their golf game, reading the newspaper, or cleaning their oven, without being at least somewhat impacted by these important days. (And if you can get by without being shaken up by them, more power to you!!!). It’s not just about the hype of what we’re supposed to expect, or how great it’s going to be (maybe), or the present you desperately want (and you get a poinsettia instead, or a fruitcake—I HATE fruitcake!! It’s not chocolate. If I’m going to pile on calories, let it be on something chocolate, not dried fruit). Our expectations start building in our childhoods, and even as adults, there’s a little kid in us that wants it to be perfect, for Santa to know just what we want and show up with it, and all the people we love to be nice to us. Sometimes all of that happens, and sometimes it just doesn’t, and when it doesn’t, we get sad. And important holidays seem to magnify everything we feel: Either REALLY happy, or really sad.
I’ve had all kinds of Christmases, both good and bad, starting with lavish ones as a child, in the German traditions of my father (he loved Christmas!!!), but I had no mother to share them with, since my mother left when I was 6, which was a gaping hole in my life then, as a young child. I had happy Christmases at the beginning of my marriage, and sad ones at the end. And a few completely alone when, divorced, I had a young daughter who went to visit her father in France every other year, and I just sat home and cried, alone. I have had fairy tale Christmases, surrounded by my many children when they were young, when everything went the way it was supposed to and most people dream of….and then the shattering Christmas, 3 months after I lost my son, when we all sat paralyzed with grief. To try and lighten the mood, I decided to give an ice skating party for my friends and their kids. It didn’t fill the void, but reminded my family that life goes on, and there is still laughter and love and fun in our lives, surrounding ourselves with good friends. I’ve had romantic Christmases and some really depressing ones, since I’ve been single….the man I loved passionately (and later married) who decided that being in Antarctica was more fun than being with me, so he spent the holiday with penguins, and I wound up alone that year, an all-time low. Even in a good, happy, wholesome life with family and a solid marriage, Christmas isn’t perfect every year, and I’ve spent enough hard ones to be sensitive to the fact that the holidays are really tough for some people, particularly if they’ve encountered disappointment or loss, or are alone. There are a lot of lonely people in the world, and contrary to common belief, having a family isn’t always a guarantee that the holiday will be great. Some of us go home to parents we never got along with in the first place, and all the same problems surface again, or siblings we have nothing in common with, or we have to send children to a divorced spouse, and sometimes we are just so stressed out that we wind up fighting with people we love, in spite of good intentions. Truly, despite my many children, I know how hard holidays can be, and they underline the fact that we’re alone, or what’s not going right in our lives.
There are several ways to view how to handle difficult holidays. Forget them: not always so easy to do, with Jingle Bells playing in every elevator and supermarket, and a Santa with his beard askew on every corner. (And shouting obscenities at street corner Santas, and taking our frustrations out on him is not considered ‘cool’). You can spend the holidays with good friends and people you really like to be with, which is a warm way to spend it. Or remember that it is one day, and not a year long. You can get through one tough day, you’ve done it before. And gratitude for what you do have: even if it’s not perfect, there must be ONE thing you can be grateful for. One particularly awful year many years ago, the only thing I could think of to be grateful for was a new pair of shoes I had bought myself and loved (that was a particularly low year). And also, giving up your time to people less fortunate and in great need. I’ve spent many nights in my years of street outreach, with the homeless, and let me tell you, seeing the misery they’re in will wake you up to just how lucky you are to even come home to a warm bed. I don’t think fabulous holidays just happen in many lives, I think sometimes we have to work at keeping our spirits up, and making the holiday good for others. Usually, when I stop worrying about how happy I’ll be, and just concentrate on making others happy, I wind up happier myself. (Some of my Christmas dreams and wishes have been slow in coming, or Santa lost my list along the way, but I have so many things/people to be grateful for that in the end I feel blessed anyway). Maybe the answer to better holidays is to try to avoid the things that stress you most, if possible, and depress you, and make sure you do some of the things that are really meaningful to you and make you happy, whatever that is. I have spent Christmases in poverty (in my early writing years) and in wealth, and although it’s a great feeling to be able to buy somebody a great gift you know they want, the year that I bought items and furniture in junk stores and refinished them for people I loved was one of my best years. I worked so hard on gifts I hoped they’d love. (As for what I get, it’s often weird. People view me as having ‘so much’ or ‘everything’ that it intimidates them, so they give me nothing, or a candle—-or a fruit cake!!! (I accept chocolate all year round), what they don’t realize is how touched I am by small thoughtful gifts, however small. And there is always one gift every year, which touches my heart, and shows that someone cares and knows me well. Maybe that’s all that really matters, showing the people you care about that you’re thinking about them and care about them. Even a phone call to a beloved friend can show them that at the right time.) Anyway, try and plan a little so that the hard parts of Christmas don’t hit you quite so hard. And I’ll try to do the same!!! And if your family drives you crazy, try to shield yourself as best you can, so they don’t ruin the holiday for you, and remember that you only have to put up with them for a day or two. I never went home to my parents for the holidays after I was married, but if I had, it would have been miserable for me. (And at some point, you have to give up torturing yourself, even for a good cause, and do what’s right and good for you. You have a right to spend the holidays with who you want to be with, not people who are unkind to you, if that’s the case, and make you feel worse). Try to shelve the old bad memories, and just focus on today. You can get through today. One day at a time, as they say.
I hope that your holidays will be fantastic. And for those of you who have the kind of Christmas we see on a Christmas card, you don’t need my help, support, or advice. But for those of you for whom the holidays are challenging, I will keep you in my thoughts. Most people don’t have such an easy time with the holidays, even though we think they do. Life is not a greeting card; sometimes it’s all too real!!!
Your mission (and mine) is to find something we love about these holidays, something to be grateful for, something fun to do (even if it’s watching your favorite TV show or old movie, with a bowl of popcorn you made yourself!!). Be good to yourself, no matter what Santa does, or how annoying your family might be, or how alone you feel. We are all in this together. May your holidays be blessed in ways you never expected, cherish the tiny moments, and the joys. I wish you the happiest of holidays…and I hope Santa comes through for you!!!
With much love, Danielle