Monday, December 14, 2009

Bah Humbug

Do the holidays make anyone happy?

I often feel myself lost in a wash of melancholy this time of year. Dark descends early. Important events wind down to a close. Priorities shift and I have little control over what falls down someone else's list. And to the ending of things, we add the stress of trying to get everyone in the same place at the same time, often competing against other just as relevant interests (or relatives as the case usually is for me).

I struggle to help makes lists that will not overwhelm my children with useless stuff and I strain to think of an adequate gift for a parent who already has everything. And we've cut WAY down. My Christmas tree has only been up for a few days. We've finished one gathering, done early so everyone could attend. I really don't have all that much to take care of. Yet I feel this overwhelming sense of sadness, nostalgia for the way Christmas shone in the idealized memories of my childhood.

Families intact. Unawareness of suffering. Childhood bliss. But I'm all grown up now. And I watch the struggle. A mom with no transportation, no money for gifts, and no support from her family. A man who doesn't feel accepted by his family, no matter what he does, and who faces a holiday spent lonely and grieving. Family facing the first holiday without a loved one. These things stay with us all year long. But somehow the holiday season seems to exacerbate the pain, lighting it from within like a gaudy tree glaring with harsh lights. In the gentler light of ordinary days, troubles come and go, but in the glow of the Christmas lights, they blaze for everyone around to see.

I will enjoy aspects of the season, I almost always do. But being true to myself means admitting I don't enjoy some, okay maybe a lot of things about it. All is not merry and bright. Sometimes the snow covers a dirty, icy patch of muddy muck and if you look closely, you can see past the illusion of perfection to what is really real.


  1. Forced festivities wear me out. Obligatory rituals suck the life out of me. And too much to do in too little time wear me out. And yet, in the midst of it all, the holiness. What can we eliminate that is superfluous and silly? Where can we cut out that which has become meaningless? What of the profane can we avoid in order to experience the sacred? It's a challenge, isn't it, but who has time to ponder all of that in your heart or your head when there is so damned much to do? And has anyone considered the idea that Christmas seems to take up 1/12 of the year? I love the season; it wears me out. Both things -- and more -- are true at the same time.

  2. Part of it is being too busy. But we have worked to eliminate some of that over the past years. This year, I think what strikes me is the assumed and expected gaiety stacked up against the overwhelming pain. I have never faced a year where I've known so many people in deep suffering. Part of that is the path I've chosen, part of it just is -- but watching people suffer so much juxtaposed with the celebratory nature of the holiday is breaking me. Especially when so much of the suffering revolves around the very things that are supposed to be fun about the holidays. And yes, in the midst of all of that is the sacred and holy. But when families and finances seem to conspire toward misery, sometimes that holiness is hard to hold on to.