Christmas As Therapy

I am simply much too emotional for this Christmas crap.

Yesterday morning, I woke up early to get ready for Christmas breakfast. The smell of brewing coffee (which, interestingly, I smell every morning) reminded me of my dad, who will have died five years ago this January. I cried a bit.

Get a grip, I told myself.  I wiped my nose, washed my hands, and rolled up my sleeves.  Company would be here soon, and they would be expecting to eat.  Setting the table, I got out a little candle that my brother gave me for Christmas a few years ago. He’s across the country, in Seattle, and this is probably the first of his 34 Christmas Days that I didn’t spend at least part of the holiday with him. I lit the cucumber and melon scented candle he had picked out for me, and set the shade. The candle flickering on my dining room table made me choke back more tears as I thought of him, all alone on Christmas. Let the blubbering commence.

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Then I Santa set out the gifts. As the pile under the tree grew, my heart and brain flashed back to my own kid-hood. For a tiny instant, a glimmer of the excitement my siblings and I always felt at this time of the year tickled me. I remembered how special Christmas had always been, and realized just how hard my mother had worked to make it so. Of course, all the flashbacks brought on a new onslaught of tears.

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I looked at our tree. It was reminiscent of my family’s old tree, with a mish-mosh of ornaments that had been accrued over the years from various sources. Many were hand-made. Many were injured. All were special. I still have several of my parents’ old ornaments, in fact. Again with the sniffling.

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Then my consciousness expanded and waxed philosophical. For under the tree, nestled into the pile of gifts, was our toy nativity set. The girls love playing with the baby Jesus and his family (Baby Jeez, as my daughters say). Of course, this is the Reason for the Season, as some will remind you. I thought of the gulf between American Christmas and Christmas. I dwelled on how focused we are on gifts and quantity and so little on meaning and quality. I blinked back even more tears and rearranged my kids’ modern Nativity interpretation back to the traditional manger scene.

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As the holy scene unfolded under our modest little tree, I reached for some brand-neutral facial tissue, and wiped my eyes.

Soon, it was time for the festivities to begin. My mom and her husband arrived, as did my sister and her fiance. The kids awoke. The magic swirled. Thoughts of the passing of time, the circle of life, and the realizations that my mom is now Grandma and my own kids will someday be Santas went through my brain, along with some Elton John music. It was all I could do not to turn into a puddle of goo in my living room.  I made a feeble excuse about making more coffee and went to blow my nose in the kitchen.

The holiday commenced. Gifts were exchanged, food was consumed, niceties were liberally distributed. It was pleasant. It felt a bit forced, but I think that was my own anxiety cropping up. The kids, of course, were all smiles. There were a zillion perfect photographic instances available for the snapping, and few went to waste.

Ah, waste.

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The excessive trash part of Christmas really wears on me. The obscene consumption and obnoxious waste-generation our society fosters – no, demands – during the holidays gets me a little more than sad. I try to recycle, even try not to create the garbage in the first place, but it’s hard.

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But I am very proud to say that this trash bag is less than a quarter full, even after cleaning up the gift-orgy aftermath from the living room.  So our efforts are tangible, after all.  But it still gets me down.

Everyone left shortly after the gifts were opened.  My mom needed to get to her step-daughter’s house, and my sister needed to get home.  Both had long drives ahead and wanted to get on the road.  I understood, but felt very let-down at the same time.  After they had gone, I forced myself to play Candyland with the girls to avoid dwelling on silly feelings of abandonment and loneliness.

It stinks how the holidays – while lovely and enjoyable – still dredge up so many awful feelings.  It’s like a season of hyper-emotions, both high and low.  Maybe it’s because we start with the holiday hoo-hah in October.  Maybe, by the time the actual Day comes around, we are so inundated with images of perfectly joyful Christmases that our expectations reach impossible heights, heights that certainly aren’t realistic, but that leave us feeling unfulfilled when they aren’t attained.  Perhaps the hustle-bustle and pressure to shop-wrap-open-exclaim aren’t what consummates the perfect holiday, as the Target and Macy’s ads would have us believe.  And it’s very possible that we spend so much time focused on the tasks on our to-do lists that we barely look at each other.  I bet any one, and certainly all, of those scenarios contribute to the blase’ emptiness of post-Christmas.

So, today, I am sort of sad.  I am drained, actually.  There is a pit in my heart where I think a lot of love and warmth should be, but I can’t seem to tap into any of it.  The happy stuff is buried under a pile of unsent Christmas cards and used-up wrapping paper.  Instead of afterglow, I’m feeling chilly.  I want to go back to bed.  And I don’t know what the hell is wrong with me, because this was actually a really nice Christmas season.  No one is sick.  No one died.  Aside from my brother, my family was all together.  My kids are healthy, my husband is wonderful, everything is going well.  I have nothing to complain about.  But still, I just can’t shake this downtrodden feeling.  I just can’t seem to get mentally okay with the whole season being here and gone again.  So much work, and so much effort, for just a couple of hours, seems rather pointless.

Thank god for Candyland.

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