My family wasn’t particularly large. My twin sister and I didn’t have any additional brothers or sisters. Neither of us had any children, nor did six of my eight cousins. For the past few years I have had the distinction of being the “last woman standing” in my family. My father is the only immediate family I have left, and with his dementia, he cannot really function outside of his structured, assisted living environment so there is no one really to celebrate Thanksgiving with. The chances of a large, happy family around the table will never happen at my house, and every year about this time I feel a bit nostalgic and a bit sad. It seems that my holiday experience isn’t the happy, jolly, time everyone else has.
But then I remember. Part of the reason I feel sad is that every year around this time (and it’s getting earlier and earlier) the media starts pushing holiday “excitement” and the hard core retail “hype” begins. This year, I hardly had time to hang up my Halloween costume when I began to be deluged with images of large, happy families passing the turkey around the Thanksgiving table, men and women laughing through the snow laden down with gifts, and groups of men and women drinking champagne wearing tuxedos and gorgeous evening gowns.
“This isn’t my world” I think to myself.
Then I realize, it really isn’t everyone’s world, either. The glamorous parties (the ones that are actually fun, not business), huge family gatherings (where no one fights) and gorgeous gifts (the ones you get in the little blue or red/gold boxes) do exist for some, but for most, the holidays are not really a time of “comfort and joy.” Perhaps they are for young children who don’t have to be responsible for anything besides filling up their stomachs and ripping open festive boxes, but for adults, it’s a different story. Complicated and expensive meals have to planned, shopped for, and created, then cleaned up. Gifts have to be selected, paid for, and packaged. Decorations may be festive, but they’re a pain to put up. And, in many places it is cold and dark, and damp and snowy. The airports, road, and trains are delayed, crowded, irritating. Christmas carols bleat out of scratchy speakers all over town (if I hear “Jingle Bell Rock” one more time I’ll puke). All the crush and rush is exhausting. Scrooge-like companies like to lay people off before it’s time for their Christmas bonus (or Christmas goose), too. Suicides go up, and stomachs, expand. Happy, well-adjusted singles who are generally fine with being home, alone, may suddenly feel that being alone is depressing and lonely. Those who can’t get “home for the holidays” suddenly seem isolated and deprived. Couples bicker over whose parents to visit, and what to give. Family differences seem magnified, especially when combined with too much food and drink.
Thanksgiving is tomorrow, and it officially opens the holiday season. Like it or not, from now until New Years we are all in it together.
I’m not going to pontificate about how Christmas and Chanukah and other holidays in the coming weeks are supposed to be religious–not just commercial exercises in excess,. What good will it do? If businesses don’t have a good holiday season, it’s bad news for all of us in one way or the other.
I am, instead, trying to focus on the positive. The best way to handle the holidays is to focus on what’s important to you. Enjoy the things you like (in my case I like going to the neighborhoods that gussy up with the most lights, to gawk, and enjoying the after-Christmas sales before Christmas). I remember the good things from the past. I loved the small family gatherings we did have, when my mother and grandmother worked for days to get everything ready, and all I had to do is eat, and watch football with “the boys.” I miss the days when I had the time and patience to sit on the floor for hours, literally covered in scraps of wrapping paper and ribbon. I like the idea that once New Years Eve is over, I get to somehow, start over. I like the anticipation of Ground Hog Day on February 2nd (it’s my favorite holiday). Sometimes, as Joni Mitchell once sang about trees, “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”
…and finally, this Thanksgiving I’m focusing on what I’m grateful for the most. For me, it’s the people in my life who are still here. I’m grateful for my father who is still alive (if not quite lively), and my husband, my cats, and my friends, who are all “family” to me. I’m grateful to you, my AdviceSisters readers, who encourage and inspire me on a daily basis (otherwise I might do something else which actually generates fame and fortune).
What are you grateful for this season? Please post a comment if you’re reading this…I’d be thankful if you’d do that, too!