Are there any others out there who feel ambivalent, at best, about the holidays? The several months of heightened expectations; forced family time for some, being alone for some, and flashes of pain for all. People who throw the word ‘magic’ around to describe the holidays exist in volume – they are also the most visible at this time of year, posting their magic on social media and splashing it on Christmas cards. It’s a time of year to congratulate oneself for having an intact family, to gather that family and rejoice in splendid closeness.
I’ve become sceptical of these families as I’ve grown into adulthood – are they telling the whole truth? If so, why do they keep interrupting all that magic to post lengthy reflections about gratitude on Facebook? Why the need to include several paragraphs with the Christmas card about everyone in the family’s achievements? By the way, throwing in a pinch of humour or self-deprecation doesn’t absolve you from bragging. The Henderson’s video card #Xmasjammies should have settled that for good back in 2013. Is Penn smart in school? It’s hard to tell! He just bats his eyes and all the teachers melt!
Because a spectrum of experience exists with everything in life, obviously some people do enjoy themselves. I have pretty magical memories from childhood, too. And there are those who experience scenes of profound family dysfunction, complete with emotional and physical violence. For most, it’s likely a mix–heightened tension, some conflict but also moments of harmony. So yes, there must be people for whom it’s pure, unadulterated joy, but the important thing to remember is that the vast majority of human beings fall somewhere in the middle. The pure joy group is probably about 5% or less of the population.
This year will be different from any other because many of us will not be gathering with extended family or feverishly shopping in brick and mortar stores.
That’s not altogether bad news for those of us who face depression or anxiety as pressure mounts to switch on the joy light.
I believe firmly, and my 40th birthday showed this to be true, that the decrease in pressure is proportionate to an increase in authentic enjoyment.
With people all over the world grieving the loss of loved ones to COVID-19, turning on the joy switch would be insensitive at best. Charges of hostility and callousness would be appropriate, I think.
Churches and places of worship will be closed. We’ll be singing and praying from home. None of the transcendent choirs, holly berries and babies in festive attire to summon smiles or tears.
The beauty is that simplicity has its own transcendence. Without the pageantry of formal gatherings and rituals, we can pause and create new ones that may suit us better.
Quieter rituals offer more space for introspection – how sad that it’s taken tragedy for society to endorse this shift in tone, but here we are.
My hope is that some of our quieter moments this year will carry forward into the future. I envision memories of this hushed peace burning in our collective consciousness for years to come, and it makes me smile.
Elsie Ramsey was born in California and moved all around the country growing up. She runs the website, What’s Your Story?
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