Musings: What The Holidays Mean To Me

This is the time of year when we’re supposed to spend the holidays with families and be surrounded by the warmth and magic of the season, right? When people are kinder and full of good will…except that reality doesn’t match that vision. Maybe it’s aspirational. And some of us either either can’t or don’t want to spend the holidays with family. I maintain that there’s nothing weird about it, and suspect that many more people would choose not to subject themselves to the “traditional” holiday merrymaking if they were truly honest with themselves about what they would enjoy doing.

I stopped doing holiday “family” events a long time ago. I still remember the day that, fed up with being told when to appear for a family Thanksgiving gathering (which involved several hours of travel, since I lived furthest away), I informed my family that I would not be joining them that year, and just the “immediate” family (me, hubby, and dog) drove up into the mountains for a picnic. It was a wonderful day: we played in the snow, free of family conflict, the stress of traveling, and eating too much rich food. One of the best Thanksgivings, ever.

Of course, there were repercussions to that decision: feelings were hurt and it was pretty clear that I was deemed to have shirked my familial obligation to appear at the event. At that point, though, I was less concerned about others’ hurt feelings than my own well-being: I was tired of dutifully doing something I didn’t enjoy and of the lack of accommodation. My needs weren’t being heard or considered. I’m a reasonable person…had the gatherings been held at my house occasionally, at a mutually-agreeable time, I might have felt differently about them.

Nowadays, I live nowhere near my family, so the pressure’s definitely off. But I still encounter people who simply can’t fathom that I don’t fly home to spend the holidays with my family. And I understand that these puzzled folks have a very different perspective – they wish to spend their precious time off with their family. I also understand that other people may have very different relationships with their families, and I think that strong, loving family relationships are valuable, important, and immeasurably enriching. Having a support network of people you can count on, with whom you have shared history and culture, is amazing…but there are people who don’t, for various reasons, and the holidays can serve as a inescapable, repetitive reminder that they are without a tribe.

And beyond the one-size-fits-all idea of how the holidays should (properly) be spent, the emphasis on materialism continues to erode my efforts to be present in the holidays and really enjoy them. I just think many people are spending too much money buying trinkets for others (that may end up being returned, anyway), and that simply buying something for someone else isn’t that meaningful. Why don’t we make more gifts? If I were to give a present (and we don’t do that, anymore, either) now, I’d proffer a bottle of homemade wine or kombucha, some homemade cookies or fudge, a handcrafted candle, or a knitted hat. I think I could come up with something a recipient would enjoy.

One Christmas long ago, hubby and I decided we’d make cards and wrapping paper for gifts. We ordered brown paper, various holiday-themed rubber stamps, colored ink pads, ribbon, and craft paper. When we had finished, we had what we thought was a lovely stack of wrapped gifts and accompanying cards. We were proud of our efforts, intended to convey our care for the people to whom we were presenting the gifts – the “extra effort”. Disappointingly, the recipients seemed unimpressed, and it was the last year we made our own wrapping paper; now, since we don’t exchange presents at all, we also don’t contribute to the waste generated by that fancy pre-printed wrapping paper and ribbons.

This Christmas, we’ll do what has become our tradition and donate to causes that are important to us. It’s my hope that others will consider doing the same, as they can – I do understand that some family members and/or friends may not appreciate having a donation to a charity made in their name in lieu of a physical gift. I can honestly say that I don’t “need” anything for the holidays, so I won’t miss having presents to open. A good (clean!) meal, good company, and the line-up of Christmas DVDs (yep, old school, and it includes “Die Hard”!) will keep me in high spirits. We might just let “A Christmas Story” play all day…because once is not enough.

Despite how it may sound, I’m no Grinch (and you’ll hear nary a “humbug” from me) – Christmas really is my favorite time of year. Nonetheless, I remain convinced that what we’ve been led to believe is “normal” during the holidays is just a myth. In an effort to keep the holidays as free of unnecessary stress as possible, I’m going to do what I enjoy doing, with people I enjoy being around. And maybe – just maybe – it will snow.