Now – if you’re totally enjoying your holidays… GREAT! Flush this post from your mind, please, and continue enjoying yourself. I don’t want to get in the way of that.
But if this rings a bell, please keep reading.
We are told in songs and in traditions that the holidays are a time to celebrate, to get together with family and friends, take a break from life-as-usual, and enjoy yourself. This is a great idea. In fact, we should do it more often – not just when Christmas songs are playing and everybody is going shopping.
Unfortunately, there are a number of reasons why the opposite happens during the holidays: people become depressed and humbuggish. Here are some things that come to mind:
1. In many ways, holidays can be the most dishonest time of the year. You know, when everything is decorated in a way that is not true for the rest of the year. When everybody is in a “giving spirit” that isn’t the case at other times of the year. When people are, celebrating, shopping, talking to family they don’t usually talk to… unlike at any other point during the year. Sure, the holidays are a time to get happy and celebrate, but very often the spirit of such celebration and goodwill feels more like a fake product of mass groupthink than a genuine expression of who people really are and aspire to be in life. The niceness and happiness is “just a temporary holiday thing” that will yield to the same old reality come January. Not a nice thought, especially for those who are not feeling so celebratory in the first place.
2. Obligations… and further, obligations to be dishonest. Writing cards / giving gifts to family members you don’t care for, attending company holiday parties that you don’t really look forward to, smiling on the outside when you’re not feeling so good on the inside (we often do this all year round, but the pressure to put on this fake happy attitude goes way up during the holidays). Especially when…
3. Some people have things on their mind that holiday cheer cannot clear up. They try to leave their worries behind and join the celebration – but sometimes, this isn’t possible. When “fake it till you make it” doesn’t work to cheer you up, a compounding feeling of guilt sets in for not being able to put on a happy face along with everyone else. Just because you aren’t all happy at the moment doesn’t mean other people should stop being happy, right? But when they expect you to get happy with them, because “it’s that time of year,” then the depressive feeling compounds itself, cause you feel bad for feeling bad! Plus, it doesn’t feel very good at all to be told to just “cheer up” when you need to get something off your chest. It brings feelings of…
4. Loneliness and invisibility. Just as some of the most crowded cities in the world can also be some of the most lonely places, so too can such social holiday occasions, in which you might expect that people would have no room to be lonely. The thing is that loneliness is not the same as being alone physically, with nobody around. Loneliness also happens – far more often, I think – when somebody feels as though nobody is on their wavelength. As though they have been forgotten and don’t matter. At no time is this feeling more excruciating than when you see everyone around you supposedly living it up – or indulging in every joy they can in order to avoid getting stuck with your loneliness. Even those that are lonely inside still put the smile on. You’re the odd one out – especially if you don’t actually have anyone around to be with you on such occasions.
5. Consumerism really screws things up. It’s not just some annoying thing that for a whole month, the same songs are playing over and over again and cheap commercial parodies try to entice you into buying something or playing some Christmas lottery raffle. A consumerist climate can also get us drifting far away from the spirit of the holidays – a spirit of kindness and compassion. “Buying somebody a present” is not the same as taking the time out to be kind and compassionate. You can be kind and compassionate through the giving of a gift, sure – but kindness is about much more than simply giving something as a gift. The consumerist creep closes our mind off from that avenue of things. When you really want to perform a meaningful act of kindness, it often takes some time and thought to figure out how to do that. And that’s the thing…
6. The timing is awful. Do you ever remember a time when suddenly, many people around you needed you? Needed your help, needed your attention, all at once? And how overwhelming this feels? Well, the holidays can often get like that. You know, just when you want to take some time out and make someone feel special, all of a sudden, it’s the time of year when you have to make everyone feel special. It’s hard to do this meaningfully without getting kind of stressed out. Why cram all of your special deeds for people into this one time of the year only?
Take your holidays back
Let it also be said, however, that the holidays can be a wonderful time to break through all this. Sometimes, you can come into the holiday season with fears of all the stress it will bring, and then, when you are with those you love, it melts away. You open yourself up, and you realize that you do have time to appreciate those special people. And they appreciate you, truly. And that can relieve a lot of tough feelings.
Not everything in life can be changed, it is true. But the holidays are not simply one big freak show that you have to play along with. Like anything else, you can drift in the endless empty perversions of the holiday spirit, or you can make something special of that spirit. Even if you feel like these holidays are somebody else’s holidays – make them your holidays, too. Go focus your energy on the things that really do mean something deep to you – things and people that you feel are worth celebrating, even if no one else seems to agree with you. Take your holidays into your own hands, and do what it takes to make them special for you. If you do that, you will be a lot more likely to enjoy them – even if your enjoyment involves no gifts, greeting cards, Christmas trees, holiday songs, or big feasts.
This gift-giving holiday spirit thing should be done year-round. However, with the approach of the holidays, sometimes conditions change significantly enough to allow for people to break through in a way that isn’t able to take place as easily during other parts of the year. Use this to your advantage! Do something out of the ordinary. After all, the good things a person most remembers about a celebratory time are the good things that stand out, apart from the rest; during the holidays, as much as people may be immersed in all the other stuff that is going on, they are also likely to be more open to a gesture of genuine kindness that breaks through the rituals and sets a different tone.
Just because holidays can suck sometimes does not mean that they have to. It also does not mean that you have to have an extraordinary time during the holidays, either. You can quietly enjoy yourself if you so choose, delighting in the contentment of taking a break from stress and noise. It’s not wrong to want something different then what everybody else seems to want. They’re your holidays, too. Make what you will of them, and ensure that you also give a gift or two to yourself this holiday season, in whatever form such a gift may come. Especially if you feel all alone.