When I was a kid, the holidays were a mixture of magical wonderment, and stomach-eating anxiety. We did all the holidays, from costumes and candy to lights and trees, but everything was hung with a pall of simmering resentment that would occasionally spark and ignite into a brush fire of anger, shouting, and tears, culminating in everyone running back to their corners to sit and simmer some more until the next encounter.To use Christmas as an example, my mom and my ex-dad fought (and continue to fight today) over buying a tree, where they put the tree, who had to decorate the tree, how much got spent on each child, how much each child did or did not appreciate each gift, who had to clean up, and who would put away the tree, in addition to a hundred other miscellaneous things they found to be angry at each other about during the days surrounding Christ’s birthday.
For years this is what the holidays meant to me. Bright colored lights against a dark frosty sky, and churlish parents. I got older and moved away from my family, and found some place for the holidays in my life, but I still never really “got” the folks who truly embraced the spirit of the season. (Though I was drawing Jesus vs. Santa Claus cartoons way before South Park ever got ahold of the notion.)
When I got married the holidays actually became more problematic, rather than less. Lena had a strong desire to recreate the exact holidays of her youth, I just couldn’t do anything right. I didn’t use the right garlands, or put the lights up the way her dad did, or… well… anything. One year I had decided Christmas could just go and fuck itself in the ass, because I wasn’t having any more of it. Who needed the bother?
But… as it turned out, from within the depths of our holiday angst came the seeds of our renewal. Sort of like a phoenix made of fruitcake.
The key was Lena’s need to remake the holidays of her youth. The honest face of this was it’s impossibility. It couldn’t be done. Never. We weren’t her parents, she wasn’t a kid, and the world had moved on. (To borrow a phrase from Stephen King.) So what to do? The answer, which suddenly seems stupefyingly obvious, was to pack up all of old holiday emotional baggage and leave it on the curb for the trash men. In it’s place, we would create our own, new holiday traditions just for ourselves. New items to make our own sense of magic and contentment.
First, some time in November, we take a trip to Walt Disney Village, to go and buy a new Disney ornament for the tree and to have dinner. The day after Thanksgiving, to the music of the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society’s Scary Solstice Cthulhu Chistmas carols, we put up our pre-lit, store bought Christmas tree. (We spent a little extra getting one that looks really good, but it was so worth it!) We light one of a variety of holiday scented candles that stay burning for the entire month, filling the house with the smells of pine, gingerbread, or spiced berries. Throughout November we have been finding and squirreling away presents and surprises and this is the time we put everything under the tree. Stockings slowly fill as the next week passes by. My mom always becomes an emotional basket case a couple of weeks before Christmas and does her seeming best to drag everyone else down with her, so the week after Thanksgiving, Lena and I take two or three days off from working and unplug the phones, stop answering the door, (unless it’s pizza) and have our holiday. We open presents, play games, and really enjoy each other and all of our new traditions.
Both of us feel as though we have “taken our holidays back” from the memories that have held them captive, and have created conditions that favor us in the future for being able to truly enjoy the season.
So, do you hate the holidays? Feel blue and lonely, or like you’re missing something to be happy and healthy with the season? Are the crazies in your family keeping you from enjoying Halloween… Thanksgiving… Christmas? If so, don’t despair, just pick up the shears and cut out the parts of the holidays that leave you blue, and replace them with something of your own, something that’s special to you. Go out of town, or dress up like Goth Jesus and hand out coloring books to blind people, whatever it takes.
And for god’s sake, do not offer to help my mom and ex-dad decorate the Christmas tree. It is so not worth it.