Holiday My Way
Christmas can feel like a whirlwind of pretend. You hook your mind around it based on what you’re accustomed to, and what you expect. If you have kids, like I do, you’re probably nostril deep in Santa, Santa, Santa, fielding questions and calculating probabilities, pretending. It’s fun, mostly. Supposedly. It’s childhood, when ghosts are real, and magic visits the entire world on one night, house by careful house. Maybe you’re shopping for last minute gifts, for the hardest relatives, pretending you care, pretending you know them well enough to gift something good, pretending you have money at all, to bestow any presents on any happy recipients. Maybe you’re visiting family, pretending to connect. No? Good for you. This might sound a bit cynical, which is no surprise coming from me, but the point of all this is just that all the pretending becomes routine, and as long as you are used to it, you don’t really think of it as pretending. You just think of it as normal.
But sometimes, circumstances change, and you find your holiday looking very different from how it always has been, or how it is “supposed to be.” And on these occasions, it can be difficult to look around at everything you are executing in the name of hoiday cheer and NOT see it as perfectly contrived. Even Santa. I know this feeling. I am not so much feeling it this year, thankfully. I am spending the first Christmas ever without my kids, but it oddly feels OK. I received a message from a friend and reader yesterday, asking how in the world I got through the first Christmas post-divorce, and it caused me to think about it, maybe more deeply than I was allowing myself.
I wrote back that it would probably suck some, and that you just have to sort of “smile around the rotten tooth” of things not being they way they used to be. And if you can escape a little, with good booze or good company, you should do that, too, especially if you’re worried about killing the magic for any children in the picture. And I wrote: you can do it. You can do this. This can be done.
Of course it can. People do it all the time, all over the world. Ride out the end of one normal, and build a new one. But, that’s an obvious answer. The actual question is how to do it, and so I’ve been thinking about that. How have I done it? How have others done it? Why, in the face of something that has scared me, do I feel a peculiar sanity, and traction?
I’m still figuring it out, mostly. The role of good booze is pretty certain, but otherwise there has been no certain course. As I move through the house this morning, Christmas eve, I revel in the fact that am having a super good time, and I realize a huge part of re-building the holiday, and finding joy, has been to stop pretending. As much as I can. I have endeavored to drop pretense, and live in little surprises.
I cannot escape the Santa phenomenon, but perhaps it will provide some small comfort to say that simply executing the Santa charade for the first time under a new paradigm is powerful enough in and of itself. I remember last year, when I pulled on my Santa hat, alone, ( though my brother and his wife were with me (thank God.) I spent the night in their living room after putting all the goods out next to the tree, my kids asleep upstairs. Looking back, I remember putting together the little go-cart that I had for my oldest son, and carrying the son-of-a-bitch up the basement stairs of my brothers house, and feeling…what was that? It was incredible pride. It was that silly, soft, shiny, stupid Santa feeling that you get. There it was. It felt great. Yes! You can do this. Yes. It can be done. And yes, once everything was in place, I lay down on the Ikea sofa in the light of the Christmas tree, with the smell of rubber tires in my nose, and I cried and cried. Fine. This stuff just happens. It goes on. I admit it.
What else? Well, this year, I made a careful, but bold confession to my family that I didn’t want to do gift exchange. I wanted to go all out for the kids, of course, and keep that intact. But the best gift I wanted was continued financial equilibrium. I just couldn’t bear the stress and pretend of running around trying to get gifts for everyone, and stretching my little budget thin. So, I didn’t. The freedom and ease this has levied is the brightest, shiniest thing. It wasn’t easy. I’m not sure I’m very popular with the family right now. But that’s OK. It has made Christmas easier for me, and that’s what we’re talking about here, right? How to be easy on yourself during the holidays, because for some of us, it’s too likely to slip into shaky emotion, and become lost. The weight of buying and buying and running around has been lifted in a huge way, and as a result, I have enjoyed the season so much more.
Next: The best thing I’ve done this year is think about how can I build new traditions, that are totally mine, that feel funky and special to me, and whatever family I create during the remainder of my holidays. This is a supremely fun activity. It has yielded Egg Nog White Russians, after all. What else? Rillettes, and bountiful charcuterie. I hereby declare, from this day forward, that it won’t be the holidays in my house without at least rillettes, and hopefully pates, salamis, terrines, and sausages. Bring on the crackers. Let’s see. What else? The boys and I make terrible gingerbread houses every year, and we eat them slowly, as they get uglier and uglier, laughing at them in an ongoing stream of giggles. Oh, and Santa only brings things for sharing. There aren’t really piles for each child anymore, there are only items that everyone uses. And, just for the hell of it, we have no stockings. I mean, we will stuff something, I suppose, but I just don’t want the stockings. I think they’re kind of ugly. So. There.
Sugar aplenty, Christmas songs on the stereo, even the sad ones…this feels fine. And my boys are off to the other family, but it is OK. At least for now. I woke up to a magnificent thunderstorm early this morning, and I crept out to the living room to sit in the light of the tree, with milk and graham crackers, and listened to the rain in my underwear, smiling. I thought: it’s Christmas Eve. Good grief. And it’s fun, here, all by myself.
Now, the smell of rillettes braising is lifting itself through the house, and in a few short hours I’ll descend upon my neighbors and dear friends, pajamas in my bag, ready to camp out on their couch. I told them some time ago that I was forcing them to adopt me for the holidays, just in case I lost it. But now, I’m less worried. I’m not pretending anymore. I’m just doing this my way.
Happy Holidays, errbody. This one goes out to all the lonely hearts. I raise my boozy drink to your tireless persistence and faith. You can do this, yes. Onward.