Dec 15, 2015

The Spirit of the Holidays

And no, I'm not being careful about saying "Christmas," I'm literally talking about all the holidays.  Including semi-holidays, like my birthday.

I put up the tree on Monday and our half-assed lights around the front door.  I swapped out the paintings by the door the winter ones with the white walkers that I love the best.  And I felt it.  I felt the glow and warmth of holiday time and genuine excitement for the day I'd be spending with family in just 3 weeks.

Why is that notable?  Because I've been struggling this year.  As I've gotten older, holidays have gotten more and more lackluster.  Mostly just my birthday.  My birthday has been pretty much unpleasant since number 19 or so.  Not always - sometimes my sisters plan something amazing for me, like the year we went skydiving and spent the day on the beach with our cooler full of birthday cupcakes.

This past year I was pretty mopey.  I was determined to ignore my birthday, because how could I get upset if it was just another day?  But I did anyway.  I noticed and I felt lonely and sad.  So at the last minute I rounded up some family and friends and forced them to go to Outback with me (a longtime favorite that I refuse to grow out of!!!), AND to let me pay.  Me paying is crucial to my enjoyment of a group meal, because I don't have to feel guilty for ordering too much stuff, or for straining my friend's finances.

So it was good.  And you'd think the lesson would be - hey, ignoring the day makes it suck.  Don't do that.  But I didn't figure that out until after Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving I had pretty much the exact same plan.  I wasn't feeling up to Thanksgiving.  I knew I was going to feel sad if I didn't do anything, but Ryan suggested thinking of it as just a day off work and not a holiday.  A day off work sounded amazing at that point, so I thought this was a genius plan.  Until Thanksgiving.

What was originally suggested as a "play video games together" day turned into a "Ryan plays video games by himself in the basement" and, after baking an excessive number of pies, I didn't know what to do with myself.  So I moped, until Dani sent out a "Happy Thanksgiving" text.  I'm not sure why exactly that touched me so much but it really did.  Having someone to commiserate made the day so much less bad.  And it gave me something to do other than polish off a bottle of wine by myself.

So we chatted, I consumed large amounts of pie and wine and read books, and managed to get by.  I tried to find the silver lining, but overall it's probably a memory I won't try to hold onto.

And underneath my forced optimism, I felt a tinge of fear.  What if I was turning into a grinch, like my father?  What if the real reason he got so grumpy at holiday times was because he was dreading this feeling of wistful, aching letdown?  What if I got to the point where I couldn't enjoy any holidays?

Ryan's been attempting to persuade me not to set up our Christmas tree this year.  Because we're moving soon and is it really worth the hassle?  I almost let him persuade me.  We're busy after all, and setting up, and packing back up, is just more work we need to do.

But a small voice in the back of my head said, "You know, Thanksgiving last year was fine.  The year that you DID something."  So I got all the stuff out.  I attached the sections of our cheap, Walmart tree, fluffed it up, plugged it in, and then bam.  I felt it.

That elusive joy and contentment that I'd been missing.  That sense of excitement and having things to look forward.  The feeling that the time until then was still just regular life, but it was a little better because I was making the most of it.

I can't just ignore the holidays, or my birthday.  We grew up making the most of them and having a buttload of fun.  As an adult, and with people far away, it's not always possible to have that same fun, but it doesn't need to be the same.  It just needs to be something.

After setting up the tree, I got out my collection of ornaments - mostly gifts from last year when I specifically requested them.  I started to straighten out some paper clips to hang them and then I stopped.  This, too, was a family tradition, and maybe Ryan and I have only 9 ornaments, and maybe we have a crappy Walmart tree with big holes in its fake branches, but I wanted someone to go through with the ceremony with me.  So I dragged Ryan out of the basement, forced myself to not feel guilty for such an illogical request, and he humored me while we put up our single strand of lights over the door and decorated our skimpy little tree.

Our tree topper is a little, stuffed dog that Ryan got for me out of a claw machine.  I put him on top of one of our decorations and, when Ryan tried to convince me to put him away for our Halloween party, I added devil horns for his "costume" so he'd be part of the decor.  Using him as a tree topper without removing the horns was a bit of irony I quite enjoy.

And I felt a sense of family.  We don't have kids yet, but we will, and they'll be part of this tradition.  We'll hang their hand-crafted, glitter-encrusted popsicle stick stars, and their cut paper snowflakes, and family photos.  And we'll argue about who gets to hang the favorite ornaments, and we'll laugh over the crooked placement of the tree topper, and we'll absolutely listen to Christmas music while we do it - starting next year, because this year I was busy trying to be logical.

Trying to be normal.  Trying to pretend there wasn't a huge hole where my family used to be.  But there's no point in trying to hide from it or avoid it. because it's there, and not participating in the holiday throes of excitement feels like a betrayal and it only makes that gaping hole bigger and more painful.

So from now on, I'm embracing the holidays.  I'm embracing the fullness and the emptiness, the bittersweet emotions of all those family traditions I've loved since I was a child, even if my childhood family has changed, and grown, and can't always be together in the same ways.  Especially when my family grows and I have kids of my own to pass those traditions on to.

Ryan said, at one point, in an effort to comfort me on Thanksgiving, "We're your family now.  Me and Luke and Roommate."  Which is only a partial truth.  They are my family, but it's not "now."  It's not a replacement.  It's an addition.

BUT since Ryan's offering, he's gonna have to get used to being thrust into holiday-themed festivities.  Because that's my definition of family.  And I don't care anymore whether that's logical.

What are your holiday traditions?  Does your family get together?


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7 comments:

  1. Growing up the tradition was christmas tree goes up Thanksgiving night then we open presents Christmas Eve whenwe return from doing Christmas with my grandma. When I got married Christmas and Thanksgiving alternated between my family and his. Since I've been divorced its been weird trying to find our new tradition. This year I donated our tree to goodwill since it was too big for the house and the cats were fighting in it. I haven't replaced the tree and it feels weird. I want one because even though we have decorations around the house, the lack of a tree feels weird.

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  2. I just told my sister at Thanksgiving how different my daugther's holidays are compared to what we had when we were little. I makes me a little sad that she doesn't get big family dinners and playing with tons of cousins her age. She gets mostly holidays for the "girls" which is a fine tradition but definitely not traditional.

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  3. I can understand getting down around the holidays because there is so much hype leading up to it that you fear disappointment. With the crappy weather this year, I have said several times that I dont feel the magic of Christmas because it is hard to feel Christmas when it is hot AF outside!!! But I think having traditions and sticking to them regardless if they are time consuming or silly because you are moving or whatever is very important! My tree must go up, hot chocolate will be drank, Christmas movies watched, Christmas music sang. This year I told Chris I wanted to start a tradition of us opening stockings each year because we haven't done that yet together but it was a favorite when I was younger. Maybe next year I will add another new tradition for us!

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  4. Good for you! Start your own traditions and include your husband. He'll enjoy it more than he let's on!

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    1. Haha! I hope so. Thanks for the support - this gave me a smile. :-)

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  5. Please know that I am virtually hugging you as tight as I possibly can. This honestly made me cry. Not a pity cry but a commiseration cry. An understanding. The holidays are most certainly NOT the same as I've gotten older. I feel less cheer and it makes me sad. I worry that I'm losing my "holiday spirit". But I love that you are still trying. You are not giving up and you are not letting go of something that is important to you and makes you happy - and THAT is all that matters!! XOXO

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  6. ahhh i love this post. i am the same as michael, this post made me cry because i totally understand. i am really not feeling the holidays lately, or my birthday, and i think i am just getting sick of doing everything myself, organising things. like, i organise so and so's birthday, why can't someone do it for me? so i just sit there all grumpy like and nothing happens which makes me sad and even more resentful, whereas if i just planned what i wanted to do, i wouldn't feel sad and lonely.. you know? the people in my life are busy busy and i shouldn't begrudge them for not planning a dinner or something. and some people (cough, kc, cough) just don't think the way i do when it comes to birthdays and such. i am not even american and thanksgiving made me feel like crap this year, i can't even explain it. we still haven't put our tree up, but this post inspired me to do it.. because letting myself be grinchy and grumpy and trying to ignore something isn't going to help, and i should be celebrating what we do have (and what we will have with kids one day) and trying to make the best of it.. ignoring it doesn't help.
    anyway. i ramble a lot in your comments, but basically, i feel the exact same and i think we are very similar in a lot of ways. hugs girl!

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