Hello. Nice to meet you. I’m one of those people for whom the holiday season is a challenging one every year. If you have known me for more than five seconds, you will now be saying, “Duh,” and you will probably be rolling your eyes. But I am going to take this moment to speak about why – not in any attempt to diminish others’ enjoyment – but just on the off chance that someone out there might feel these ways too, and appreciate knowing they’re not alone.
First of all, it’s cold. My body is all tense all the time and my skin feels crawly. And I’m prone to depression. I don’t know that it really gets worse in the winter per se; it’s just always lurking around like a ghost in the background, mostly staying out of the way, but not needing much encouragement to get up a really good haunting.
And these holidays that are all about cheer and generosity and family fun? I can’t unknow the fact that Thanksgiving exists to whitewash genocide; that the true story of this country’s origins is one of mass murder and enslavement and rape and exploitation and resource extraction; that the wide scale refusal to acknowledge this history is a festering wound at the heart of the nation which erupts constantly in hate movements, and which enables the deceptive paradigm of individualism that’s leading directly to the destruction of habitable environments for humans. (I won’t even go into problems with Christmas right now, except to say: compulsory Christianity and exploitative capitalism.)
This knowledge is too much alive in me for me to be able to peacefully say, I will just focus on the positive things we are celebrating, and then the holidays will simply be about those good things, because I say so. I DO want to celebrate and revel in beauty, deliciousness, light, togetherness, giving, cheer, fun, and fellowship. Of course I do! But allowing only that side to have voice, not acknowledging the violence that underlies and made possible all of the “plenty” that those of unjustly privileged status in the U.S. can enjoy today – it HURTS. It feels like the pressing down and covering up of truth. It feels actively harmful.
And: I love my family and friends who embrace the happy holiday traditions. And I want, and also need, to feel connected to community during this season of cold and dark weather; I need to feel strong connecting bonds to people with whom I share genuine love and care, for mental health reasons and for just pure human soul reasons. Last winter was very hard for me, with a resurgence of depression and feelings of isolation and grief that left me just barely hanging on. This year I’ve made purposeful choices to put myself geographically near to those I consider family by birth and by choice. I am disinclined to now create a feeling of distance, of otherness, of conflict by criticizing the traditions they’re personally invested in when I need their body heat and heart fire to help me get through this time.
And I want to just name here, in case it resonates for anyone else, that it’s hard, it’s tiring, it’s confusing to carry multiple truths like this, truths that seem to be at odds with one another. The need to resist and the need to acquiesce. The desire to access the joy, and the desire to kick over the table and demand justice. It feels like a thunderstorm, sometimes, in my brain and heart. I distrust my motives and my thoughts. I don’t know whether I should speak or be silent or say something else entirely. It’s mentally and emotionally exhausting, and that exhaustion shows up in the body, too. And sometimes I just want to stay in bed and hide for the whole fucking rest of the year.
But: you know, sometimes there’s grace. Sometimes the unexpected happens, and it helps. Sometimes a moment comes when it’s ok to name what bothers me about the holiday coverup, in an honest way, and people don’t get mad at me or think I hate fun. Sometimes the amplification of love that we generate by being together actually gets channeled into the work of healing. Sometimes the gratitude I feel for a particular hug, a particular chord, a particular color of light shining through the snowflakes, fills my heart and spills right out through the aching cracks and shows me what I can personally do to make something better.
So this season, I’m making these commitments to myself: I’ll try to rest when I’m tired. I’ll try not to be too hard on myself for not knowing yet how to resolve this inner battle. And I’ll watch, I’ll watch for the moments of grace.
I feel much the same, myself. It’s complicated for me by a painful anniversary in early December. Each year I try a different mode of getting through it all intact. Thank you for writing about it.
Well said, Angie. And for a song to accompany, here’s one of my favorite all-time Christmas songs, which happens to be made by my friends John Common and Jess DiNicola: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H9TZ87xrgAk
I am catching up on Feedly today, and right after this post, someone blogged this poem, which does not (as far as I know) DIRECTLY relate, but it feels like it takes the same emotions and gives it a tinge more of hope, and anyway they RESONATED together for me so I thought I would share it with you:
“Today there has been so much talk of things exploding
into other things, so much that we all become curious, that we
all run outside into the hot streets
and hug. Romance is a grotto of eager stones
anticipating light, or a girl whose teeth
you can always see. With more sparkle and pop
is the only way to live. Your confetti tongue explodes
into acid jazz. Small typewriters
that other people keep in their eyes
click away at all our farewell parties. It is hard
to pack for the rest of your life. Someone is always
eating cold cucumber noodles. Someone will drop by later
to help dismantle some furniture. A lot can go wrong
if you sleep or think, but the trees go on waving
their broken little hands.
– And Then It Was Less Bleak Because We Said So by Wendy Xu”
This is a lovely poem! And, I’m also very much about letting bleakness be there sometimes. I really think it is a real part of human experience and not something that needs to be banished. And I think it eases more when it’s just allowed to be, until it passes for the moment. I’m kind of adamant about not asking sadness to be different than it is… and I find that’s how it is most able to come and go, when it’s honored for being just as it is, without having to find a silver lining. That’s how it is for me, at any rate. (I do love this poem, though. ❤️)