This is a tough time of year for a lot of people. I used to be one of them. And I’ve gotten over it, and myself, which I attribute 100% to Amy helping me figure it out and not being willing to put up with my nonsense. But it’s a useful reminder for those who think it’s awesome for everyone.
While the Christmas and New Year’s holidays can be a restful, restorative, wonderful family time, it can be excruciating for those who are depressed. It can be oppressive rather than restorative to those who are exhausted and worn out from the year. And for those who feel pressure from being immersed in their family, or who feel unresolved tension in their relationships, it can be a nightmare.
My struggle with this time of year is simple – I never had Christmas as a kid. I’m Jewish and my parents didn’t embrace the “ok – we’ll pretend like Christmas isn’t supposed to be about Jesus being born” so we never celebrated it. I recall existing in this parallel universe, where all my friends had this crazy gift foreplay for the month of December, talking about what they were going to get, running around with the parents getting things for their friends, and planning for the main event. It culminated in gift orgies on December 25th, wrapping paper flying, and endless gifts piled up to be played with, inspected, eaten, and traded.
I attended a few of these gift orgies at the invitation of my friends. I always brought over a nice gift for my friend and his or her parents. I always got something – usually one thing that was generic (that everyone got), or a book, or sometimes a piece of clothing. Occasionally, out of last minute mercy, the mother of my friend would scrounge up whatever extras they had, put it in a leftover stocking, and give it to me.
As I got older, I got crankier about it. My first wife celebrated Christmas so we did it at her house, with her family. They were polite, but they never liked me very much, so the whole think was this awkward charade, which just made things worse. I refused to have a Christmas tree in my apartment, so my ex-wife and I fought every year around Christmas for the few years that we were together. And that sealed the deal for me – Christmas sucked.
I then went through the “why isn’t everyone working” phase of Christmas. I was resentful that everyone took two weeks off. C’mon – there’s work to be done! I’d grind through my work, being newly productive, cleaning up all the cruft I hadn’t gotten to, as everyone else partied and had fun.
I can’t remember what Amy and I did for Christmas for the first few years of our relationship, but after we moved to Boulder we started spending it with her family in Western Colorado. They were extremely nice to me and included me in everything they did, but I still felt like an alien in the midst of a strange human ritual. I recall spending hours huddled over a laptop trying to figure out the cheapest way to get a dial-in connection to check my email, even though no one was sending me email because it was Christmas.
At some point I just accepted that I was grumpy at this time of year. Disoriented. Confused. Sometimes a little depressed. Usually just bored. Amy put up with it, but kept nudging me to try different things.
A few years ago I finally turned a corner. We started spending the last two weeks of the year at our house in Keystone. We’d invite a variety of friends up for a few days. The only Christmas celebration we had was Jewish Christmas, where we went out for Chinese food and a movie on Christmas eve. We’ve recently augmented that with sushi and a movie on Christmas day night. Instead of being grumpy, I just chill out. I enjoy hanging out with whomever comes to visit. I read a lot, sleep a lot, and catch up on a bunch of stuff – mostly writing – that I get behind on. And I get rested and ready for the year ahead.
It took me a very long time to figure this out. Maybe I’m slow when it comes to decoding Christmas, but I’ve got a bunch of friends who also struggle with this time of year. I watch from a distance as couples bundle up their kids, stick them on a plane, and make a painful, stress-filled visit to some distant city where one of them grew up. Or my single friends searching for something – anything – to do other than a trip to their parents. Or others, just defaulting into a trip to where they grew up, knowing it’s going to suck but feeling powerless to do anything about it.
It’s ok not to love Christmas. But that doesn’t mean you have to be miserable for the last two weeks of December every year. If you aren’t loving the game, change it.