One of my most memorable Christmases occured many years ago when I ended a relationship on Christmas Eve day: we had been seeing each other for over a year and I was terribly fond of the fellow, but I could no longer pretend that his excessive drinking didn’t bother me. Since he didn’t think he drank too much (or too often), I ended it.
Because he was a generally good person, his overarching concern on that Christmas Eve day was that I not spend the next day on my own. He offered to not mention our breakup to his family so that I might join them for Christmas dinner, instead of our planned dinner-à-tête. I declined.
He couldn’t believe someone would want to be alone on Christmas. And he was doubly disbelieving that someone like me—a single woman, living alone in a foreign country that celebrated that holiday in a big and meaningful way (Ireland)—wouldn’t be unbearably lonely on that particular day.
How could I tell him that not only couldn’t I wait to be free of this unhappy, untruthful encumbrance, I was positively thrilled to have the day to myself?
I had both of our meals—chicken breasts with parsley cream sauce and carrots—for both lunch and dinner on Christmas day, and they bookended a renewing, solitary walk through the streets of Dublin (the pubs aren’t open on Christmas day).
I had a wonderful, wonderful Christmas.
Now, there are people of my current aquaintance who would be just as horrified as my former paramour was that I would look forward to Christmas on my own.
But there are others who would merely nod their heads in understanding.
I bring up the above because, well, it’s the holidays! Be of good cheer! Love and joy come to you!
And a big, fat raspberry to you, pal.
Many people dread our three-fer holiday season, and I get why. Halloween is okay because you mostly interact with strangers, little kids at that. But Thanksgiving, oh my word, that whole family-around-one-table thing, a daunting and possibly painful venture that can quiver the most stout of hearts (because you know they are going bring up the she-broke-the-turkey-platter-and-tried-to-repair-it-with-frosting-when-she-was-eleven thing again, no matter that you’ve gone on to become a world-famous medical specialist who is about to cure cancer once and for all).
And after Thanksgiving, why, it’s four weeks of stress and shopping and parties and, well, alot of cheese.
And then, da-dadada-da-DA!, Christmas Day itself.
And what a day it is: Children won’t get what they want (or enough of it), adults will try to suppress their mounting dissatisfaction with how their lives are turning out, and everybody will pretend to like that smelly old half-deaf aunt they have to have to dinner.
It’s supposed to be like this
We all have some idea of what Christmas is supposed to be like. Maybe it’s the movies; maybe it’s a vague childhood memory; maybe it’s that d@mnable Dickens story. The season’s commercials are full of fluffy, falling snow and happy, perfectedly proportioned people. Print ads are full of white teeth and jewelry. Everybody’s got everything they need and everything they want, and everybody’s happy with everybody else and positively delighted to be with them.
Oh, who wouldn’t want to have a Christmas like that! Did I mention the ice skating and hot chocolate?
Sometimes, you get some of that type of Christmas: maybe not the jewelry, but maybe the hot chocolate; maybe not the perfect proportion, but maybe the snow. And it’s okay.
It’s all okay, just the way it is, with whatever you’ve got.
Just because you don’t have a Martha Stewart lifestyle doesn’t mean your life isn’t okay.
The reality is that you don’t live in a 300 year-old brick house with a four-foot wide fireplace, you aren’t going to give a brand new Mercedes tied up with a bow to your special someone, and you may just tip over the tree when you try to put the angel on top of it.
What you have is what you have; some of it might very well be crap, but some of it might be, well, okay. The Christmas wandering around in your head is probably not the Christmas staring you in the face; why not just fade out that Christmas-in-the-head and have only the Christmas-in-the-hand?
It’s supposed to be like the Victorian Christmas Card
The idea of the tradition of Christmas is a little made up, you know. The Pilgrims didn’t have it; they downright outlawed it. Oliver Cromwell over in England actually cancelled it (this was after he defeated the king and got the king’s head cut off, so he was a little bit of a sour-puss anyway). Christmas wasn’t declared an actual holiday in the United States until 1870 (a coupla years after Thanksgiving got declared one). There is no unbroken Christmas tradition of celebration and gift-giving going back hundreds of years. It just ain’t so.
My childhood Christmases I don’t really remember, except the one where I got the Hot Wheels cars and race track and my sister got the Barbie Makeup Head (well, that’s what we wanted). I do remember that every year my mother would kick all of us out of the house, including my father (after he got down from the attic the box we stored the tree in), on her “this is the day” Saturday so she could set up the tree on her own.
We had no sing-a-long while stringing popcorn garland, no make-a-wish whilst throwing the tinsel all over the tree, no solemn meaningful tradition of singing “Silent Night” as the star was placed on the top of the tree. I don’t recall making Christmas cookies with my mother and sister.
And you know what? It’s okay. My mother is now 81, and every day that I still have her is a gift. If I was ever pissed off that she didn’t give me that perfect childhood Christmas you see on tv, I am way, way past that.
It’s supposed to be like the replica Victorian Christmas Card
Christmas these days is mostly a frenzied and frenetic dance of buying things. Lots of buying lots of things in lots of stores in lots of malls that have lots of parking spaces already taken by lots of other people buying lots of things.
There is also a “fantastic home” element to things these days: we can nip out to the back yard and we can collect pine cones and we can spray paint them gold and we can create a perfect holiday centerpiece using them and the driftwood we picked up this summer down the Cape and saved for half a year.
You know what? You can’t.
And you should stop beating yourself up about it.
Your Christmas probably won’t be anything like what you see in the movies/commercials/ads, because nobody’s Christmas is like that, and I’ll tell you why: those Christmases are made up. Yes. Completely artificial. An image created to sell you something.
Families are broken; relationships falter; children and parents look at each other and think “who the hell are you?” And we think it’s only us, it’s only now that these things exist, that way back when-ever people were more decent and families were more loving and people made better and truer decisions. I am here to tell you, “nuh-uh.”
In all of recorded history people have been happy and people have been sad. People have been laid back and people have been having conniptions. People have made the absolute dumbest choices in love, people have drunk themselves into penury, families have imploded under the self-created weight of expectation. Always. Good and bad; selfish and giving; happy and sad; healthy and diseased; always have humans had all of these things. We are different in what our societal norms and cultural expectations are, sure. But not worse.
We are human. We have foibles. We fail. We succeed. We get surprised by how well other people think of us. We are grateful for love. We are relieved when stressfulness ends. We are human. And it’s okay.
It’s okay to be okay with what’s okay
So you know, if the dog throws up on the newly opened Wii thing, if your first-time-tried Yule Log looks more like a peat bog, if last year you went to Aspen and this year you can only afford to take the T into the Boston Common to see the Christmas lights, it’s okay. If your kid really wanted new skis and all you can get him this year is a new ski hat, it’s okay. If you are afraid to splash out for the half-dozen bottles of Veuve Clicquot you usually get because your company is going to have layoffs come January, it’s okay.
It’s okay. Your Christmas is going to be okay. If a loved one is serving in the military overseas, just love them (and send them email). If your father has end-stage Alzheimer’s and doesn’t recognize you, be gentle with the fellow, hold his hand, and tell him you knew him a long time ago and that he was a good person.
If you are in the middle of a messy, heart-wrenching divorce and the kids want to spend the holiday with your almost ex-spouse, let them go, cry your eyes out, then treat yourself to either dinner out or a quiet night in with the clicker all to yourself.
If you’ve lost your job and feel terrible that you really can’t get anything for your kids, maybe it’s time to start that sing-a-long popcorn garland stringing tradition.
If everybody-but-one is at your table because that person is lost in the grip of alcohol or drugs, acknowledge their absence and raise a glass to the hope that they’ll find their way back to themselves and to you.
I don’t wish you a “merry” Christmas.
But I wish you a good one.