Our culture tells us the holidays are a time when more is better, families are wonderful, friends abound, and the season is jolly.
Well, I’m here to tell you: “more” gets people into debt and looking for validation from externals; some families really suck, especially if the families tend to keep score or hold grudges or don’t allow for individuality; some friends are moochers who count on our good-natures; and the season brings out competition for everything from parking spots to who gets or buys the best gifts.
I think it’s safe to say that the holidays bring out both the best and worst in people. While many spend time with loved ones, others try hard to forget them. While some spend their time drowning in self-indulgence, others are homeless and hungry and cold. While some worship in candle-lit churches, others kill each other over which religion is the “right” one.
The holidays aren’t really any different from other periods in the calendar year but they can exacerbate the differences between us. They bring a certain wistfulness to lay upon our shoulders like snowflakes and deliver a certain vague feeling of regret to our door. We long for something and can’t always identify what. Christmases past or future? Maybe both?
For me, historically I’ve been very wistful around the holidays and it’s only this year I’ve managed to identify why - thanks to the journaling I’ve been doing.
I don’t long for the past. I don’t really miss the house and neighborhood in which I grew up. I don’t miss the noisy relatives arriving to visit my maternal grandmother. (We lived with her, for better and worse.) I don’t miss being an “angel” at Midnight Mass, singing Slovak Christmas carols, and getting new sweaters as gifts. (But who doesn’t love a new sweater?) I don’t miss my crazy in-laws or their huge Christmas Eves. But I am grateful for my past and feel downright merry when my sister and I reminisce about it.
What I long for, regretfully or otherwise, is a sense of connection. Not a connection to family or birthplace, not a connection to the past or present, but a well-rounded connection between who I was and who I am. The truth of it is the holidays show me - in glittering, bright lights - the separation between those two separate versions of myself. I don’t miss the past as much as I long to find a way to connect it to who I am now, to find a way to bridge the past to the present so that I can move into the future as the truest version of myself.
Maybe the thing to do is to create a storyboard of my life, much like an author creates a storyboard of a novel - or at the very least, a timeline. Perhaps by visualizing it, I can see my life’s nuances and view myself as the protagonist of my own story. Perhaps a theme will emerge and show me the direction to move toward in these waning days of my working career.
Holidays are both good and bad. But I think they’re best when taken with slower steps and in more measured doses. And if you find that wistfulness comes knocking on Christmas Eve, welcome her in. She might not be reminding you so much of Christmases past or bringing hopes for Christmases future. She just might bring a reminder to stay in the present and as the New Year approaches, to focus on your life now and integrate it with all that’s been and yet to come.
And if you don’t really want wistfulness around, give her a cup of eggnog, a bite to eat, and send her on her merry way.
Make it a merry one.