Christmas is full of anticipation and impossible expectations, whether child or adult. I remember my grandmother, aged ninety-eight, speaking about Barack Obama, poised to win his first US election. “Poor man,” she said–demonstrating, as usual, that she’d retained every marble– “how can he possibly live up to these expectations?”
Christmas feels the same way: some look forward with excitement, some with dread, but nearly all envision a Christmas that will never occur, or is even impossible. Movies tell us things will be wholesome and perfect, or devastatingly terrible. Why must this holiday be either one? Why place so many eggs in this basket, to use a misplaced holiday metaphor? The emphasis on family time, when families might be spread out or dysfunctional. The emphasis on consumerism, when many are struggling to get by on a day-to-day basis. The emphasis on Christ’s birth, when there are celebrations by Jewish and Muslim and Hindu and Buddhist people all over the world, just to name a few.
In Canada, there’s the bonus winter weather wild card, and we all have such stories, especially in Northern Ontario. Like last year, when our flight was cancelled so we decided to drive nine hours down to Southern Ontario, only to have a windshield wiper fly off the car five minutes into the trip, and get caught in a blizzard two hours later. Our youngest child’s flight from Vancouver was hours late. We were all grumpy and exhausted. Merry Christmas, everyone! Joy to the World!
Maybe the best gift is to just let things be. Drop the assumptions and let each person have their quirks, no judgement. Let the insecurities come out (bragging or insults), let the narcissists self-promote, ignore the sloppy drinkers without commenting that they might want to have a glass of water. Let the gifters show off new finery or report how much they spent on themselves/their spouses/their kids. Let the quality timers lament that there isn’t enough time together, even as they feel the stress of preparations and noise. Let nostalgia flow. Let people miss the ones who have passed on, or express regret at lost traditions. Deal with the fatigue and the indigestion and the excess (or total lack thereof). Maybe Christmas means ordering takeout from McDonald’s, or a seven-course supper. Maybe Christmas means loneliness and homesickness. Maybe it’s one day to feel some hope.
Some people avoid the fuss by escaping: if they have the means, perhaps a well-timed sunny vacation. Perhaps working extra shifts (we assume it’s a negative thing, but not always). Some don’t leave their home for a week, waiting for the holidays to be over.
I love my family in all its wonderful eccentricity, as maybe you love yours. It’s difficult to find occasions to gather everyone when most will be off work or school. For this last reason, families that don’t even celebrate Christmas use the holiday time to get together. Accepting that, is it possible to take some of the pressure off, everyone? In the next few years, our Christmas will get more and more complicated, as kids grow and potentially pair off and/or move away. In addition to accepting quirks, we will need to recognize that Christmas is a day that can happen anytime, regardless of beliefs, if the most important thing is being together (cue the music of the Whos in Whoville).
Patience, humour, acceptance, joy. If you can have those, you can have Christmas.
Hi, I'm Karen. This space is a chance for me to get some of those notebook sessions out there: Motherhood, medicine, writers and writing, the state of the world. Non-published, sometimes non-polished, just a chance to open a discussion. Let me know what you think!