I love the idea of Christmas. Of any holiday really that conjures up images of a close network of emotionally healthy family and friends gathering together, clinking glasses with children under foot, cooking, eating, opening gifts, blah, blah.
But here's the thing, that's not my world. That's not my reality. I mean, sure I have family who I love (although we've been torn apart by Trumpian politics and Q-ideology). I have wonderful friends too, who spend Christmas with their husbands, children and their own extended family. The truth is, that what I mostly felt during the holidays was pressure, stress, sadness, and whole lot of loneliness.
Why? Because the holidays for me just seemed to be a mirror held up to my face reminding me of all I didn't have. I don't have a husband (or partner). I don't have a big family. I don't have a massive tribe of geographically close friends. I don't have a lot of disposable income. I don't have a lot of time, and I don't have a lot of help.
As a single mother, I have always felt a tremendous amount of pressure to create holiday magic for my son, especially to make up for all the things we lacked. So I indulged him with every holiday ritual old and new that I could think of. Tons of decorations including a real tree perfectly decorated, special gifts and stocking stuffers wrapped in either "mom paper" or "Santa paper," elves on stupid shelves, fake Santa-written letters left on an empty plate with cookie crumbs, and dirty boot prints leading from the fireplace. I even got Christmas stocking for our two dogs and cat!
I also experienced unrivaled anxiety about money, tremendous anxiety about where we'd spend the holidays (hoping to tag along with friends' lovely holiday traditions), and so much pressure to pull all of this off during the end-of-semester crunch.
What I didn't feel during the holidays was joy. Not an ounce. No joy whatsoever (except, of course, for the joy experienced by my son). Even when I was religious, very little no joy.
None (you get the point).
One year, I was so insistent on giving my son the PERFECT Christmas that I drove to a "Christmas tree farm," through snow and sleet, and paid an outrageous amount of money for the pleasure of laying down on freezing snow (redundant, I know, but making a point here), while crawling under the tree and sawing it down myself. This was in Chicago and it was -50000º.
I dragged that baby home, put it up, decorated it perfectly (with store-bought ornaments in the front, and homemade ones in the back, of course) and then awoke the next morning to hundreds (and hundreds and hundreds) of baby spiders throughout my house. Apparently, there were thousands of spider eggs in the tree and they hatched once their "home" was relocated to a warm and cozy environment. So again, very little joy (and a last minute new tree!).
But the absence of joy wasn't a wake-up call—a wakeup call to stop engaging in something that brought me no joy. Rather, my sadness just induced guilt, and lots of it. Guilt that there was something wrong with me that I didn't experience holiday glee like everyone else, guilt that I didn't have a partner, guilt that I didn't have *that* kind of family or *those* kinds of friends—a life that I'd chased for years that for whatever reason eluded me. And no amount of Oprah-inspired gratitude made even a dent in my lack of Christmas cheer. I just had to wait until mid-January for the ugh of the holiday season to pass (typically replaced by the pressure of work).
Even after my son was grown I continued on with the holiday madness, convincing myself that *this* year would be different. This year I'd work even harder to enjoy the holidays. But every single year was exactly the same, made worse by social media. I'd peruse all of the photos on Facebook and Instagram (at 3 am after collapsing once the melee of gift wrapping was done), and I'd just feel like shit. Even though I had a good life, there was something about the holidays that reminded me of what I *didn't* have.
So this past summer, at the age of 60 (!!), I made a decision to listen to my gut and stop engaging in activities that did not serve me. And among these many decisions, was the decision to quit Christmas. But not just Christmas, I quit all holidays. Every single one of them (I still accept invitations and gifts though, I mean, I'm not an animal). I gave away my beloved post-spider-infestation Martha Stewart pre-lit tree.
I didn't hang a single decoration. I ordered the same gift for all of my nieces and nephew and had them shipped (thanks Amazon). I got my son a few things I knew he'd like, and rather than insisting that he come home for Christmas, I drove his (unwrapped) gifts in my little Fiat, poodle in tow, across a few states and spent the holiday with my him in his undecorated house.
And here's what happened: I had probably one of the best holidays ever. Or rather, the best UN-holiday. Zero pressure, no going broke, no wasted wrapping paper, no unrealistic expectations, no cooking, no spiders, no sadness, no loneliness (well, no more than usual), and no wishing I had other people's lives.
And here's some good stuff that happened: We ate dinner at a lovely restaurant on Christmas eve and we got an unexpected invitation for Christmas dinner with some very dear friends and had an incredible time. It was so easy, so enjoyable, so fun, so unexpected. My son and I have thoroughly enjoyed each other because I'm not a sad, anxious, pressure-filled mess. Also, this is the first year that social media posts haven't made me sad on Christmas.
So this is my new holiday tradition: Nothing. And nothing for me equals joy.
This is a blog for middle-aged women, like me, who want to live a life of increased authenticity, and greater well-being, with fewer façades, less role-playing and a lot more fun. I chose a photo with myself and my son because he is my heart.
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