Post-Holiday Cheer

4 Jan

I don’t like the holidays.  And I’m glad they’re over.  I feel sort of Grinch-y saying this.  Especially since I was the person in high school who, on the holidays – Halloween, Valentine’s Day, Arbor Day, whatever! – dressed in the official holiday colors, and drew some sort of symbol of whatever holiday it was on my class notes all day.  And there was a girl in my grade who wore all black on purpose, in protest of the holidays, and I thought she was jaded, at 15-years-old.  Maybe I’m the one who’s jaded now, at 35.

But here’s the thing.  Somehow, the holidays have changed and morphed and warped.  As far as I can tell, they are supposed to be a time of sharing love and spreading joy.  But something happened.  Something went wrong.  And now it feels like a time of keeping anxiety at bay and warding off loneliness.

This year, as Thanksgiving approached, I started to feel the pressure, stress, and sadness that tend to descend at that time of year.  So my friend and I decided we would get to work on redefining the holidays.  We might not be in time for this year, but we could certainly start thinking about how we’d like to spend the holidays next year, in ways that would be less painful, and possibly even be able to muster up some joy and love in the true spirit of the holidays.

Then, Christmas was around the bend.  I’m Jewish, so growing up, Christmas was a day of not being able to call my Christmas-celebrating friends, with nothing do but listen to Christmas songs on all the radio stations (mostly religious-sounding songs, occasionally punctuated by “Last Christmas” by Wham, or “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer”), and watch endless Claymation.  I didn’t know about Chinese food and a movie until I was in my late-20’s.

As an adult, I don’t celebrate Chanukah anymore, and I don’t celebrate Christmas, so I am left ritual-less on Christmas Eve (I now know to see a movie on Christmas Day).  And then as soon as Christmas passed, New Year’s was here, and with it, the pressure to make some kind of MOST FUN EVER plan to RING IN THE NEW YEAR!  I don’t like to drink or spend excessive amounts of money, which seems to be what this holiday has morphed into, and I was feeling resentful that I had to do something FUN and AMAZING because it was a holiday. I just wanted to do something regular, that I’d enjoy.

Because I.  Don’t like.  The holidays.  And usually I pretend I do.  Or I keep quiet that I don’t.  But this year, I was very vocal with my holiday un-cheer.  I complained at Starbucks about the incessant Christmas music.  I told friends, family, and people I just met that I couldn’t wait for the holidays to be over.  And it felt good not to pretend.

So why are the holidays so un-cheerful?  There is the pressure, stress, obligations, expense.  There is the feeling that everyone else is having this ideal holiday, sitting in a circle in front of a crackling fireplace, drinking hot cocoa, singing “Kumbaya” as Uncle John strums a guitar, surrounded by mountains of opened gifts, none of which have to be returned because they are all PERFECT, all the while enveloped in holiday warmth, joy, and love.  This.  Is obviously not true (though I do have an Uncle Jon who plays guitar, but my family hasn’t done the sitting-in-a-circle-campfire-Kumbaya thing in over 20 years).  But it often feels like everyone else is reveling in holiday joy, anyway.  While you are alone, listening to Counting Crows’ “A Long December” on repeat.  In the dark.  I’m just saying.  That could happen.

Many people I know struggle through the holidays, which, instead of fostering warm, fuzzy feelings of belonging, intensifies painful feelings of isolation and loneliness.  A holiday is just one day and then it’s over, but as the holidays approach, I batten down the hatches and come up with coping strategies to just make it through the season.  But this year, as I was more vocal with my holiday bahumbug-ing, I heard more and more from people who felt the same way.  Which fortifies me in my mission to go beyond coping strategies next year, and redefine the holidays altogether so they can be more than just something to survive and emerge on the other side of January relieved to not have to go through that for another eleven months.  So that I can actually enjoy them, and wrap myself in my own definition of holiday cheer.

The holidays are over.  And I’m relieved.  I didn’t wind up having THE MOST FUN AND AMAZING HOLIDAY EVER! And I didn’t necessary feel enveloped in joy and love the whole time.  But I did feel like that in moments, and flashes.  I celebrated in simple ways that were meaningful to me, and which made me feel peaceful, and that, is very, very good.

Luckily, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Presidents’ Day do not bring with them this kind of baggage, so I have some respite from the holiday blues.  And eleven months to redefine the holidays for 2011.  And the good news is, if there are a lot people who feel lonely during the holidays (and, I think there just might be), then we really don’t have to feel so alone.

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2 Responses to “Post-Holiday Cheer”

  1. cat January 4, 2011 at 4:18 pm #

    Great post, Jennifer, and so true. My boyfriend & I started going down the Jersey shore Christmas Eve two Christmases in a row – it’s my ‘place’ that I feel happy. This year I joined in on a family thing finally joining my sister and her boyfriend’s family in Tucson (after being invited a # of years). That was nice because it had many holiday elements but I found my Christmas Eve jaunts to the Jersey shore scrambling on Christmas Day to find something open but yet being at the shore with the magnificent ocean and white cold just as special. I wrote a piece once about walking through Park Slope on Christmas Eve and being depressed by all the sparkly Christmas trees in the windows of the brownstones and imagining everything was so perfect inside. I think we all go through that, or many of us do. Thank you for expressing it!!

  2. Jennifer Garam January 28, 2011 at 11:45 am #

    Thanks Cat! Your Christmas Eve piece sounds great, and so relatable! Happy to hear you are creating your own holiday traditions that are meaningful to you.

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