Okay, I have regained my sense of humor and balance a bit. In my last post readers were taken on a sorry trip through the depressive mind in the holiday season. It is a hard time for many people whether they are suffering from depression, alone, at odds with family, suffering a loss, feeling the pains of poverty and being measured up against all of the hype from stores, or any of a ton of other things. One commenter on Facebook remarked about how sad my post was and wondered in print if this was what was to come for her and everyone. No, it isn’t what everyone feels. Of course, we all face that first holiday without a loved one and it has varying effects. Some folks are more grounded or stable, some are content with being solitary, and some never face really, really difficult holidays. And some of us make progress through sustained effort.
I have been concentrating on maintaining a realistic set of expectations, resisting the hype, seeing things as they are, and keeping a sense of humor. Here are some of the things I have been noticing, experiencing, and making progress with in this holiday season:
1. None of us have the ideal family of many television programs the rest of the year, and we shouldn’t expect them now that the stresses of the holidays are upon us. We don’t have Donna Reed, the Cleavers, the Huxtables, or the Cunninghams living at our houses. But you know what? Even these families have dark, hidden things that no one talks about. Richie and Joanie Cunningham move along happily and loved, but what about Chuck, the older brother no one talks about? Was he the black sheep? Did he run off to join a cult? It was the 50s…did he go off to Korea? It was a different time…maybe he moved to the Keys to perform in a drag show and they didn’t want anyone to know!
And what about that loving, happily blended Brady family? Let’s face it there was tragedy and unhappiness in their pasts. Mike was a widower so those boys had to deal with losing their mom. According to the creator of the show, Carol was divorced (although it isn’t really mentioned on air – even then some topics weren’t discussed in nice company). So where is the girls’ dad? Carol obviously married a bum who completely abandoned a wife and three sweet girls. There are issues that even the perfect Brady family had to deal with that would have made life difficult. Some therapists were getting rich off of a family this size, but did we get to see that part?
Let’s face it. More of our families look like the Roseanne and Dan Connor and their crew. We identify with the Griswolds in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation than the Waltons when extended family shows up at the door! I got giddy in a store once when I bought a friend an embroidered pillow that said, “Friends are always welcome. Family should call first.”
2. Norman Rockwell and Hallmark lie. That’s right. They perpetuate myths that damage the psyche of many, many people by creating an unattainable mythology. All those lovely pictures of smiling people gathered around the table or the tree, the heartfelt sentiments about love and family, the happy family hiking out into the woods and joyfully spending time cutting down a Christmas tree…BUNK!
I remember the time my parents decided we’d be that family joyfully cutting down the tree. We got out of the car and immediately went five different directions. Each found a tree and shouted to the others repeatedly.
“Come here! I found one!”
“No, you come here! I found the perfect one!”
“You are both wrong. I found the best one!”
And on it went until my father declared, “All of you knock it off and get back in the car.” He picked a tree that was closest to the car, started sawing and cussing, and brought home a less-than-stellar tree tied to a car with five angry people not speaking to each other! Families are much more likely to do what we did most years – go to a lot somewhere after having Dad declare, “We aren’t going to be here all day.” They pick out the tree that will fit in the living room and haul it home.
3. People get all crazed over non-issues just so they can be offended. Does the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” really promote a rape culture? Who is thinking about that as they sing? Here’s a suggestion if you feel that it is offensive: don’t listen to it! My mother, a grandmother seven times over, absolutely saw no humor in “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” and turned it off when it came on the radio. I have personally banned “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “Blue Christmas,” “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” and any other sad songs because I don’t want to hear them. A friend told me the other day that “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” is one of her favorites. Great. She is welcome to listen to it on nonstop repeat at her house or in her car. Just not in mine!
I love the sacred songs best. Nothing rings through my house this month more than my playlist with Pentatonix singing “Mary Did You Know,” Andrea Boccelli’s rendition of “Angels We Have Heard on High” and Kelly Clarkson singing “Silent Night” with Trisha Yearwood and Reba McIntyre. But I’m also going to have fun with such deep and meaningful songs as “I’m Getting Nothing for Christmas,” “Dominic the Donkey,” “The Twelve Pains of Christmas,” and even “Let It Snow” which I absolutely NOT on my wishlist! Yesterday I heard a new song from an album by Ana Gasteyer. At first I scoffed a bit at the title song, but then as she sang it, I laughed at the lyrics of “Sugar and Booze.” I won’t buy into the idea that “the best part of the holiday is sugar and booze” even if there have been a few moments where I would agree. But listening to her sing, was mood lifting. The music begs you to move. And the lyrics like “I glide right through December mixing naughty with that nice,” or “What good’s a little drummer boy without the RUM pa pum pum,” and “Grab a fork there’s damage to be done” just put a smile on my face.
4. There is no real war on Christmas. This is an extension of people looking for ways to be offended! People declare the war exists on social media claiming that the phrase “Merry Christmas” has been “banned” and we aren’t allowed to say it any more. I call BULL! No one has stopped me from saying it or even suggested that I not say it. I can understand some businesses preferring that during work hours their employees express “Happy Holidays” to customers who participate in any of the many celebrations of the season. They don’t want to lose business from the one in a hundred terminally-politically-correct-looking-for-something-to-be-offended person who will show up. And I know that they are still dreading the one who takes offense to Happy Holidays because, “It’s Christmas, damnit!”
Wish me a happy anything. I need the good wishes, kind feelings, and encouragement. I will wish my Jewish friends a Happy Hanukkah (Dec. 22-30 this year) and a wonderful new year as well. And if they say, “The same to you,” I’ll be happy to have someone wishing me over a year and a week of goodness! Remember as you listen to Christmas songs recorded by Barry Manilow, Barbara Streisand, Neil Diamond, Kenny G, and Idna Menzel that there are Jews very happy to celebrate the season as well. So I’ll listen to their songs and “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” along with those from Amy Grant, Mercy Me, Michael W. Smith and other Christian artists while telling people to have a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, and a prosperous new year. Music and good wishes help my mood.
5. We celebrate love, joy, peace, and family by being rude, pushing and shoving, and doing all sorts of horrible things to each other. Go to the mall and try to find a parking place. People will cut you off in the blink of an eye and swing into that space you were turning into while laughing in victory! Makes you want to turn into Kathy Bates in Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Café.
Then when you get into the stores there are no rules. It’s every man for himself. We have all seen those images of crowds rushing through the doors for the great deals. I watched people knocking others down and vaulting over them to get that hard-to-find toy. Okay, it’s not just them. Nice people who wouldn’t normally do such things fall from grace. I need to be honest here and admit that I succumbed to this myself. No, I did not knock anyone over, shove anyone out of my way, or do a long jump over a prone shopper…but I didn’t wait my turn either. After standing in a store and having three people offer to check me out (a miracle in itself), I was finally ready to take them up on the offer after my granddaughter got her autographed book. The only problem was that in the meantime a program had let out and now the line was a mile long. I should have dutifully gone to the end of the line, but I turned to the cashier and said, “I’m ready now.” She checked me out and away I went walking the walk of shame past all of those people standing patiently (more or less) in line. I felt bad. Not bad enough to wait, but… Hey, it was the cashier’s fault because she rang me up. (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)
I was once in a crowded business during the holiday season. With everyone getting impatient, grumbling had started and I could see tempers starting to flare. Very quietly a gentleman stood up and started singing “O Holy Night.” Suddenly there were no sounds other than his singing, and as he finished, everyone sighed and smiled having had a reset on their day. It was a simple but very effective gesture offering peace.
We need to follow suit. Instead of finding reasons to be angry, put out, sad, offended, or grinch-like, we can work to lift ourselves up and find reasons and ways to be happy and have fun. Play with kids. Volunteer to distribute food or gifts at a local charity. Find the childlike fun and wonder. Dress and act silly. Give. And don’t worry what others think. Just like the Grinch at the end of Dr. Seuss’s story, I found my heart and spirit spirit growing in the last two days as I threw all sense of decorum out the window and donned my Christmas leggings, fun sweater, Santa hat, and ornament earrings while I volunteered at New Hope Ministries making sure that others had gifts and food for the holiday. It’s working miracles for me.
So I wish you a holiday season filled with realistic expectations, the music and treats that you enjoy, and some relaxation from the hustle and bustle. Remember to take control of how you celebrate. Go to church. Change the station when you don’t like the song. Attend a concert – my local library has a free one coming up next week. Give good wishes with a smile on your face and joy in your heart because everyone will welcome wishes in that spirit. I’m doing what I can to make it through with some sense of celebration and gratitude for the real reason for the season. I hope you do the same. Merry Christmas.