Winter holidays are probably that time of year when ghosts of our past are most likely to come out and dig their dirty fingernails into wounds closed long ago, hoping to pry them open and make them bleed once more. And if there’s ever a chance for them to succeed…
Well, at least that’s what this time of year is like for me. So here I am, lights twinkling in the tree, Christmas songs playing… and I’m angry dancing in my fuzzy bathrobe and equally fuzzy slippers while brushing my teeth, late at night. Before you say it, no, I can’t blame this on too much mulled wine; that’s simply who I am.
‘Tis the season, it’s a given. December abounds in festivities of all sorts, but let’s be honest, there’s celebrating, and then there’s “celebrating”… My contradictory feelings about the holidays have settled during the more recent years and I no longer struggle to do Christmas “right”. I enjoy seasonal frenzy, even if I don’t always choose to take part in it; I love over the top decorations, even the cynic that I am worms up at the sight of Christmas lights. But no matter where I am today, I haven’t forgotten the not so warm and fuzzy side of the season, the other kind of celebration.
So in spite of having made peace with the past (mostly), that doesn’t mean that nothing can touch me… certain healed wounds will always have a sore spot, which might occasionally still hurt, if pocked at long enough. And that’s when one has to dance it out like crazy, toothbrush, fuzzy slippers and all. Whatever works, right? Well, that does work for me, because, cold-hearted atheist that I am, I am still not giving up on Christmas, no matter what. That being said, what does it actually mean for me? To put it bluntly, it’s beauty and beast, all neatly and elegantly wrapped together, and you never really know what you might find inside that alluring and equally deceptive packaging… and I’ve always celebrated it.
Oh, how I’ve celebrated and “celebrated” it! Let’s see… first and foremost, there was the ever-present, ever-exacerbated seasonal drama – family drama, romantic drama, even platonic drama. Some very strange individuals were trying to convince me that it’s not an absolute holiday must, but surely they had no idea what they were talking about. I knew better and that was all I knew – how to be a mediator and even the occasional participant in that holiday tradition.
Broken promises, guilt, manipulation, unrealistic expectation? But of course, check, check, check and check. Isn’t that what everybody does on Christmas, even on New Year’s, if they’re lucky and they come from a “good” family, as my grandmother used to call ours? It’s that time of year when one simply must let everybody else know how disappointing and unworthy they are, that’s how one gets all the best guilt gifts. What, you’re not going to tell me you didn’t know that’s how it’s done… are you? Please… everybody knows it. And if it doesn’t work, then just throw the tantrum of a lifetime, punctuated with hurtful invectives, that’ll guarantee both appropriate punishment of the ungrateful individual, and their adequate behaviour in the future.
Let’s see… what else is there? Breakups, new encounters, lies, last-minute flights and lost luggage, constant ingratitude, desperate attempts to please and do the right thing, whatever that might have been at the time… Been there, done that, one way or another, generally feeling trapped in the middle of it all, breathless and not knowing how to escape the whirlwind. Hey, that’s just how some people “celebrate”! Among the more notable events I should mention a funeral, and on a different occasion, an attempt at a suicide attempt. Like I said, I used to skilfully play the mediator, so I couldn’t shrink away from my responsibilities… could I? So bags were hastily packed and two more last-minute flights were booked on two different Christmases. Oh yes, and there also was that one with the fistfight, but that was just a subplot on one of the two afore mentioned Christmases, so it’s not really notable.
No matter what surprises every new Christmas brought, there was that constant which kept everything together – the arguments, the never-ending, pointless, senseless arguments. If there was one thing that my family did really well, that was arguing, I learnt it from early on. Holiday arguments were spectacular, no matter when and how they got together. The more they argued, the more they drew energy to argue some more. In case you didn’t know, arguing is an art, and I was taught well by example. I can argue for hours, for days, for months even. In fact, if I think about it, my entire relationship with certain relatives is one endless argument. See, I told you I know what a good celebration is all about…
Needless to say, I couldn’t go on like that for the rest of my life… or perhaps I could, but why would I have chosen to?
She was going to spend the holidays at home, that was the only way for her to relax, to rest and have a good, peaceful time, my dentist was telling me the other day. “I know exactly what you mean”, I replied and we both laughed. We may not be close friends, but we are acquaintances for long enough in order to appreciate that mutual understanding and not ask anything else. It might sound small and trivial, but the moment I was finally able to find what doing Christmas right meant for me, was also one of those relevant moments when I understood I have not only found myself, but I really didn’t need to ask for permission to be myself. Life is simply too short to spend it in bitterness, arguments and toxic relationships.
There’s room for good and beauty in our celebratory traditions, there must be. So I choose to carry on with those nice, fun parts of what Christmas used to be, not with the toxic, self-destructive ones. There will always be negative things beyond my control, but I choose to spend this time of year the way I want, the way I like, not the way it is expected of me. You know what, I actually love my home, I decorate it every year and that means something to me. I’d rather draw energy from this warmth rather than from incessant arguments and dramas.
Even if I find no comfort in the religious side of December, I appreciate many of the values this holiday stands for, I think they’re an appropriate way to end a year. There is beauty and peace in rejoicing and celebrating with people you love. There is beauty and peace in an act of kindness benefitting a stranger in need. There is beauty and peace in slowing down and allowing yourself to just be, ignoring all pressure and expectations. There is beauty and peace in remembering to be grateful, because even if they may not perfect right now, things have probably been worse. There is beauty and peace in celebrating the way you feel like, even if that means not celebrating at all.
Like I said, I’ve tried to take the better side of my upbringing and see what I can build on it. I try to spend the holidays only with people who are really important to me, who know how to offer and receive affection, who appreciate me and don’t need me to constantly show my appreciation in a flashy, exaggerated, self-destructive way. I have a great time cooking and baking, and sharing these goodies. I’m not ashamed to say, I watch sappy holiday movies and listen to Christmas songs on a loop. Christmas is about good people, kindness, a nicely trimmed tree, generosity, acceptance and gratitude. Yes, I went on and on about it the previous years, and I plan on writing another piece on the subject soon, this time including some of the nicer parts of Christmases past.
Oh yes, Christmas is also about doing an angry dance, because those ghosts from your past will just not go quietly into the dark cold December night. They just won’t let you be, and that’s when you need those coping mechanisms; and an angry dance is as good as any. In case you’re interested in the little song that prompted the electric toothbrush fuzzy robe dance, here it is:
What can I say, a little celebration this time of year can’t hurt. Thank you for offering us the opportunity to take a moment and think about it, Amy (Lens-Artists Weekly Challenge – Celebrations).