Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Reboot Christmas

I'm writing this now, a few days after Christmas, so that I can hopefully keep it in mind enough to help me avoid another Christmas like this one in 2011.

Not to blame my family or friends, but once again, Christmas was disappointing... I am grateful that I didn't suffer the crushing depression I so often felt in December in my 20s, but any attempts to make Christmas worthwhile or meaningful just failed miserably. It can't be done. It is one long round of unmet longings, of excess and expense that makes no-one but children happy.

I know it's a different set of disappointments for everyone, but in my case, it's a month of frantic activity and checklists that culminate in... nothing. It's isolating, a stripping away of the work routine that keeps me plugged in to society and content, and having stripped away that schedule and left me with nothing useful to do, leaves me bereft and dependent on the hospitality of family members who never built up any traditions to give us some structure for the holiday.

Having just written that paragraph, an epiphany has just occurred to me: why don't I hold the Christmas gathering next year? I've always assumed as the Single of the family that my role was to arrive at a larger house with a supplementary side dish, a dessert, and gifts. But what if I were to host the thing, to direct the course of the day instead of hoping for someone else to arrange something enjoyable for all?

I say this with anarchy in mind... because the best, most memorable holidays I have had are the ones that resemble a sitcom plot for a Christmas episode. Primary example:

For decades our family has gone every Christmas to our relatives in Batesville, AR, because it was the habit of our childhood. We would sometimes escape the slight claustrophobia of my Grandmother's house (where nothing much was done beyond meals, TV, naps and conversations) by going on an errand to the Super Wal-Mart. One year my mom, sisters and I all went together, and in an uncharacteristic move, bought some sodas and sat in the little corner food court after our shopping. We ended up sitting there and talking for over an hour. We realized that we didn't really want to leave and go back to the house... that we didn't really enjoy these Christmases in AR because we never did anything fun... and that we all felt the same way. It ended up being a long group therapy session, and even now over a decade later, we will still talk fondly about that time in the food court at Wal-Mart.

It wasn't that we didn't love and enjoy my Grandmother, and that we didn't like seeing my cousins (who were always the big drawing point for us)... it was the very separation from that tradition that was memorable and a turning point for us as a family. This was before my sisters had kids, and we hadn't yet realized that it could be enjoyable sitting around and talking, just the women of our family.

I guess the conclusion I'm arriving at here, is that as much as we need the traditions of the holiday for structure, we also need to scrap them on occasion. Baking cookies every Christmas can be an enjoyable habit... but the minute it becomes a burden, it needs to go away for a while! I stopped holiday baking for several years when it ceased being fun; well, this year I had a longing for making sugar cookies and decorating them, and so I stocked up on cookie cutters and sprinkles and went to town on the baking for gifts. I also ended up making over 25 dozen sausage-cheese balls over the month of December.

So I think I want to scrap both the (subconscious) traditions/habits of the last few decades (or the lack thereof)... and maybe be the host next year. I may just make pasta, I may have no presents but a movie marathon, I may have only a tiny tree for decoration or every room covered in ornaments and wreaths... there are no rules beyond trying to create some new traditions (Zero-dollar gifts... homemade gifts... sushi and cheesecake...) to help take us out of this misery of disappointed expectation.

I like my family. I don't have any stress being around them, they don't torment me or get drunk or cause unpleasant scenes or drama, and I am deeply grateful for that. But I think we can use a reboot.

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