Back in the day, oh so many years ago, as a very young social worker, I remember being surprised that mental health problems shot sky high during the holidays. I couldn’t understand why this would happen at what was supposed to be the happiest time of the year. (Not only was I very young, I was also really, really clueless.)
It has taken me a few decades, but I finally figured it out. The source of all my wisdom? Personal experience, heavily supplemented by newspaper advice columns, my internet forays, and especially Buddhist Boot Camp, Timber Hawkeye’s wonderful site.
Here’s what I’ve learned:
We pile all these unrealistic expectations on to ONE day. It has to be perfect, perfect food, perfect gifts, perfect decorations. We create this made-for-TV movie in our heads, and expect that others will be performing their roles exactly as expected. Because, of course, everything is perfect at everyone else’s house. Isn’t it?
We are a mobile society. Not only do we move geographically–we also “move” relationships. Divorce and remarriage adds a level of complexity to family gatherings that didn’t exist when Norman Rockwell was painting his holiday scenes. These days, how likely is it that ALL family members can be happily present at the same dinner table on the same day? Coming from a fractured family that is geographically challenged, my answer is “halfway between impossible and improbable”. Oh yeah.
So why not have MULTIPLE gatherings? Why not just rejoice in the time you have with your various family members regardless of when they occur?
Why does Christmas have to be just on December 25th? Stores start decorating around October 31st. Rather than being upset by the crass materialism, why not look at those early decorations as a reminder of the SPIRIT of Christmas (or Chanukah or Kwanza or whatever floats your boat). If Christmas to YOU means kindness, appreciation and love, why not just SHOW that kindness/appreciation/love in some way, to someone important to you. It doesn’t have to be on December 25. It works just as well on any of the remaining 364 days. If Christmas means something else to you, then by all means, follow your own particular definition, which I hope doesn’t make you miserable, frantic and stressed out.
This year, my “Christmas” started on December 16 when we met my dad and his wife in New York City. Our present to them was tickets to the show at Radio City Music Hall. Their arrival was a comedy of errors, including, but not limited to, a forgotten cell phone, late bus and lost luggage. What I’ll always remember, however, is my dad’s good humor throughout what could have been a stress filled fiasco. His wonderful ability to roll with whatever may happen is one of the many reasons his kids are all crazy about him (or maybe we’re just all crazy–one or the other).
Thinking back on those two days, I’ll also remember my wonderful husband’s support and assistance during the entire visit. THAT was the best Christmas present he could have given me.
With a large family on both coasts it takes a while for us to connect with everyone. And that’s okay. To me, what matters most is not what is on the calendar, but what is in your heart.
So, take a deep breath, smile, tell yourself it will all be fine, fully enjoy whatever comes your way, and be kind to yourself and others.