Since 2009, this has not been an easy time of year for me, to be honest. On December 25, 2009, at approximately 6:30 pm, after an approximately seven year battle with untreated (and I don’t consider Christian Science ‘treatment’ to be any sort of valid treatment at all) heart failure, my Dad died. My holiday malaise usually gets going around the weekend of American Thanksgiving, usually the last Thursday of November. That’s when I flew out to where Dad lived to look after him in what turned out to be his last days.
This year, I’ve been in the midst of a stressful new set of responsibilities at work and consequently, I’ve found myself feeling overwhelmed and abnormally ‘on-edge’. I was laying much of my high stress level on my work situation, and while it does get most of the credit, I began to realize that there was something lying deeper, just underneath the surface, that was amplifying my stress and generally bad mood. It hit me shortly after the American Thanksgiving weekend that this dark anniversary was coming around.
For a long time, Christmas has inspired mixed feelings for me. As a child, I loved it. I couldn’t wait to put up the tree and decorations. I loved the colourful lights everywhere, and the shiny baubles hanging off the tree. Of course, I loved the presents and the baking too. Through my teen years, I enjoyed all the festivities too, but in the more muted way of a teenager. I always treasured the time with family the most.
The first crack in the happiness came during my college years when I worked in retail during breaks. My first experience working retail during the Christmas season opened my eyes to how truly awful this season can be. I saw people at their worst. I saw greed, selfishness, extreme rudeness, consumerism, commercialism, and materialism amped up to their highest levels. When I’d get home from work, the last thing I wanted to hear were Christmas carols, especially after having to endure them over and over again for an eight-hour shift dealing with the assholes of society. I began to deeply hate Christmas and everything it seemed to stand for. I just wanted it to end and to go back to my studies.
That hatred abated once I was out of college and away from retail, but my dislike of the rampant orgy of consumerism, which is on full display every Black Friday in the USA (and now some other countries), when millions of people make utter fools of themselves in a mad rush to accumulate more stuff continued. However, I always loved the closeness I had with my family during this time, and I began to actually like Christmas carols again. During the time I lived in Boston, I usually flew home to visit my parents. Of the ten years I lived there, I only missed two Christmases. The thing I loved most about Christmas was being with my parents. I was always very close to them.
Which brings me to the present. Those close times with my parents are memories now. Christmas and the lead-up to it, are a bittersweet time for me. I love the spirit of the holiday–the real spirit–not the gaudy consumerism. I still spend time with family–my cousins whom I grew up with, new traditions have been forged over the last several years, and I look forward to Christmas in a different way. But, it will always be a partially dark anniversary for me, and I’ve learned to accept that. The first Christmas after my Dad’s death, I was admonished by a friend when I posted something less than cheerful about Christmas on my Facebook timeline. That pissed me off to no end. This friend seemed to feel that grief and anger had no place in this joyous season. Fuck that! Emotions, both the good and the bad, are real. To put down another person’s genuine emotions is degrading and psychologically damaging–especially when they’re connected to something tragic.
So, as we move thorough this season, and whatever feelings it inspires for each of us, let’s try to look to what the real spirit is. It has nothing to do with getting stuff, or any religion, or some virgin birth. The holidays at this time of year have their roots in many different traditions. I think it’s about celebrating the closeness you feel with those you consider to be family, or giving back to your community. Family is not limited to those you share DNA with. Family is those whom you care the most about, even if it’s the folks on the street whose names you don’t know. I’m privileged to have family I’m close to that I share DNA with, and some with whom I don’t. Do whatever you can to find your joy, and I truly hope everyone can. But, I realize that not everyone will. That’s how the world is. I’m glad to find some joy in the season now, and to acknowledge the ways in which I don’t. That’s how I deal with it.
So, I wish you all the best for this season, and I hope you find some joy. I also ask that you set aside any notions of a ‘war on Christmas’ (there isn’t one), and accept any greetings you receive with the joy that’s intended behind them. Please don’t be offended by Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas. Accept both with the spirit that’s intended behind them, and let’s all just get along. Thank you!