It is equally as cliché to say the holiday season is a depressing reminder of what you don’t have in your life as it is to say it’s the most wonderful time of the year. Just as many people despise December’s poke-you-in-the-eye onslaught of pressure and deflated reality as revere, anticipate, and sing songs about it. Truly, this can be society’s rock-bottom moment, a cry for help wrapped in LED lights and garland.
Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do these holidays crush some of us, while invigorating others? Why do many of us become grumpy, miserable, old men, and others starry-eyed, impossibly happy grinning ninnies? And does the “why” really matter? Maybe it all needs to stop, no matter your reaction.
We are habitually a country at war with ourselves. We build ridiculously high expectations, artificially inflated demands, and impossible-to-reach levels of proof that others love us. We also bypass the kindness expected of the season in order to lament the commercialism we willingly embrace; abandon the joy we sing about in favor of time spent with family who regularly make us chafe; and then stand on the precipice of the most holy or miraculous times in our culture with a feeling that it just wasn’t enough. And often, those who spend 10 ½ months looking forward to these 1 ½ months end up wasting time, maniacally trying to squeeze every possible Norman Rockwell moment out of these rapidly vanishing hours, days, and weeks.
I’d like us to stop. I’d like us to take a deep breath, and then fiercely exhale as much tradition as humanly possible. Let it all out — the perfectly balanced tree, the dozens of cards no one reads, the search for Hanukkah gifts made by people who believe the holiday is the Jews’ Christmas. Sputter out those thoughts and the stress that accompanies them. Put down the 12th batch of gingerbread men, back away from the latkes, stop worrying about how much wrapping paper you’ll need.
Now think about the holidays differently. They can be fun, but they don’t have to make up for a bad year. They can be filled with activities, but they don’t have to be overscheduled. You can give gifts without having to extend the limit on your credit card. You can stop and be in the moment. You can enjoy others’ company without having to manufacture memories that justify the power of the holiday. You can strip away the anticipations of others and, instead, leave yourself in control of how you feel.
This doesn’t have to be a be-everything time of year. It can ebb and flow. It can be fun and boring and quiet. It doesn’t have to be miserable, a shout into the void of brash consumerism. It can be Linus’ soliloquy to Charlie Brown or time well spent with your sleeping cat or a period of inner reflection. But mostly, it can be a peaceful, loving recognition of who you are before — and after — the holidays.
I beg of you, consider carefully your perspective. There truly are children starving to death while you complain about the cost of a $10 scarf. There really are people alone nearby while you search for reasons to get away from your family. Your world will absolutely not fall apart when the bright lights and carols of love get packed away. And those unnecessarily excessive expectations don’t have to continue. You can stop — just stop — until you find your footing. December can be other than perfect. Additionally, it can represent something more than the ugliness sent to us over our smart phones. In truth, the season doesn’t have to mean everything in the world. It also doesn’t have to be the end of it either.
Daniel Kaye is a writer and editor from Abington, Pennsylvania, and the director of life enrichment at Rydal Park, a continuing care retirement community in greater Philadelphia.
Rydal Park is an underwriter of WHYY.