Messy, Messy, Messy: Regarding the Holidays
My main problem with Teh Holidays is that I am neither Ebenezer Scrooge nor Buddy the Elf. And frankly, these are the options that most of us are offered this month. Either we can be Christmas Spirit Incarnate, singing harmony to a constant stream of Rankin-Bass specials, or we can be the pre-change-of-heart Grinch, Debbie-Downering our way through everyone else’s holiday.
I, personally, and basically everyone else I’ve met – do not fit either of these archetypes. Personally, I’m inclined to listen to the occasional Christmas carol, but cannot stand hearing them on an endless loop. I’m inclined to decorate, but the silver photo tree that’s passing for an evergreen in my apartment is not, on this here eve of Christmas, fully decorated. Throughout December, I’ve occasionally considered making cookies. I watched a handful of Christmas specials on YouTube. When customers have wished me a happy holiday, I’ve not spit on their shoes. But my Christmas this year is tending as consistently toward “meh” as it is toward magic. Come to think of it, that’s what it tends toward most years. And here’s the truly stunning part: the more time that passes, the more that feels ok.
So much of what unnerves me about the holiday is the pressure. The pressure to act like a character from a Hallmark special. The pressure to make this one day meet all of these standards for togetherness and cheer and generosity and satisfaction set aside during the rest of the year. The pressure to make “Christmas” live up to whatever “Christmas” specifically is supposed to be. I do feel like there’s something sad about allowing the twenty-fifth to pass by as if it were any other day on the calendar. (The birth of Santa is not to be neglected.) But there’s also something freeing for me in admitting that, in fact, that’s enough for it to be.
Let’s be honest here. Christmas is fucking impossible for a lot of us. It’s painfully difficult. For some people, that’s about distance – geographically or otherwise – from the family that is so foundational to our culture’s Perfect Christmas narrative. (Marianne Kirby wrote a great piece on being estranged from family during the holidays, and seriously, I’m ok with you setting this entry aside to go read that. It’s phenomenal.). Even when we’re connected to families, we’re often suffering from loss, or financial strain, or illness (including mental illness) that cannot be set aside for the holiday visits, despite the pressure to do just that.
For one reason or another, the holidays tend to be as challenging as they are awesome, if not decidedly more so. And the thing is, this is logical. This makes sense. This is reality. We are fucking human beings. Our lives are complex. Our experiences do not follow a schedule; they do not align with ABC Family’s 25 Days of Christmas. They do not follow the comfortable timeline of a Lifetime original. They are real, messy, layered human lives.
And this is ok. It’s ok that you are spending parts of Christmas smiling at the snow flurries and other parts playing first-person shooters on your computer. It’s ok that you are brewing hot cocoa in one hour and throwing your mug against the wall the next. It’s ok that you love your family and you’re spending the night curled up in bed, wailing. It’s ok that you ‘re spending time with people, and it’s ok that you’re spending time away from them. It’s ok that you’re enjoying Christmas and that you aren’t. It’s ok that all of these things go together.
Down at the heart of things, this – right here — is the Christmas that is.
For me personally, the last three Christmases have included some combination of the following: illness, rash, appendicitis, heartbreak, grief, siblings trapped out of state, a father in ICU, and a niece in the hospital. They’ve also included laughing until my sides hurt, my great-aunt’s heavenly rye bread pizza squares, and dear moments with loved ones new and old. These were not separate Christmases. These were not, in most moments, separate hours. The coworker who sang carols at customers yesterday was the same coworker who did racist impressions and harangued me about my non-existant boyfriend. Sometimes within the same minute. So this is what I have to offer you: It is all the fucking same.
As my sister pointed out when I complained about the Somebody-Is-Always-Hospitalized-At-Christmas curse my family seems to have cornered the market on: this is actually just life. This is how life goes. When you love people, when you care about people, when you are a person, things get (and stay) messy. And sometimes, in the same moment, you are enjoying the snow and wincing at your chapped knuckles. Sometimes in the same moment you are grateful and wracked with pain.
And that’s ok. You can be Buddy the Scrooge. You can be you. This day can be just as it is.
In fact, that’s all it can be. So breathe a little, honeybuns. And let it.