Confessions / Happy / Society & Culture / Staff Picks

What to Do When Your Childhood Holiday Dreams Die

As I’m writing this, it’s the 19th of December.

Snow will soon be falling outside, and I’m baking several batches of chocolate chip and candy cane cookies- so all might seem well. In fact, my family even has our lovely holiday wreath hung up on the outside of the house, so our house looks positively festive to the neighbors.

If you take a closer look inside, though, you’ll discover a pile of wrapping paper from last Christmas still sitting in our living room. You’ll find a pre-lit Christmas tree still stapled shut in its cardboard packaging. The dinner table where we’re supposed to have our family gathering on Christmas day is covered in untouched bills.

To put it simply, my idyllic childhood vision of Christmas is finally dead, dead, dead.

To put the scene above into context, my father was diagnosed with brain and lung cancer in March 2012. The past 20-something months have been a demanding balancing act between being a caretaker and a daughter, all while trying to make enough money to pay my student loans and maybe, just maybe, move out of my parents’ basement (spoiler: I’m still down there).

Up until my late teens, Christmas was my favorite time of year. I loved the lights, the smells, the food, and spending tons of time with my family. I bought or made gifts with excitement, enjoying the process of shopping and gifting. I listened to Christmas music beginning in mid-November, and I loved hunkering down to watch holiday movies and decorate our house.

Now, although it’s only been a few years since I was 19 or 20 and totally enthralled with the season, I feel as though I am emotionally light years removed. Now the entire holiday season just feels like a ton of awful, pointless work. I have felt more depressed in the past few months than I have in while.

Despite my irritable ways, though, I’m trying to keep my head above the bullshit. I’m trying to see the good parts of Christmas despite feeling the bad. How do you manage, though, when you simply feel ho-ho-hopeless? (Sorry about that last pun, I had to). Well, here are some tips for the holiday depressive inside all of us:

1. Don’t Force It

Christmas music is swell and all, but sometimes it’s simply the last thing on Earth you want to listen to, especially when it’s piped in through every store and radio station. Instead of trying to force aural Christmas cheer on myself, I’ve been blasting a lot of Deafheaven’s Sunbather and The National’s Trouble Will Find Me. These are not Christmas albums in any way, shape, or form. But it is music I enjoy, and when I do find myself listening to Christmas music, I actually truly appreciate it.

2. Get Some Alone Time

Holidays are usually about spending time with family and friends, which is generally an activity I like. However, sometimes the list of invites can seem completely overwhelming, especially if you’re more of the introverted type. If you find yourself feeling completely frazzled and sick of the social scene, remember that it’s okay to say NO. Sometimes you do need a night at home to drink an entire bottle of mulled wine while watching Netflix in your robe. Chances are that when you re-emerge into the holiday scene, you’ll feel more excited about it than before.

3. Don’t Worry About Whether You’re Enough

I’m just reaching the point in my life where many of my friends are pairing up, getting married, and even having babies (dramatic gasp). Some of them are moving forward in their careers, and some are graduating with professional degrees. When I go to holiday events and talk about their happy news, I want to feel happy for them, not sit and play the comparison game. I do that enough in my head, and it is probably the most unhelpful thing EVER. We’re all on different paths, and that’s perfectly okay. You are awesome and amazing, and do not trick yourself into thinking that someone else’s track is meant for you.  It’s not.

So- do yourself a favor at the next Christmas or NYE party and don’t sit there and spend the entire evening measuring “life accomplishment dicks.” And yes, that’s the proper terminology for them, in case you were wondering.

4. Give Presents with Heart

This is the first year in a few where I could actually afford to buy presents for people, and it was exciting. In fact, buying presents is likely where most of my future-rent money went, but I’m okay with that.

This is in comparison to last year, when I was broke as hell and was unable to buy anything. What I did instead was write letters and cards that came from the heart, and I made damn well sure that my friends and family knew I appreciated their love, support, and humor.

My point is that a thoughtful letter/small item/whatever and a hug goes a long way. Presents are just things- don’t give yourself an ulcer due to money woes. As long as you let people know they mean the world to you, that’s enough.

P.S. If someone is mad you only gave them a heartfelt letter or home baked cookies, they’re probably an asshole. Just FYI.

5. Laugh

At some point, I learned that you have to relinquish some control over the situation. You can’t control every detail of every day, and something will likely go wrong on your perfectly (or imperfectly) planned Christmas Eve/Christmas Day/New Year’s/Holiday-of-choice celebration. It’s life.

So I invite you to throw back your head and give a giant, jubilant belly laugh. The holidays can be truly ridiculous, and in order to see through the haze of consumerism, terrible jewelry ads, and family drama, you really just have to stop taking everything so seriously. Let go.

Get in the moment.

Best wishes to all of you this holiday season! xoxo

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