Tag Archives: Christmas

Yuletide Blues

Christmas-time is a difficult time of year for everyone, it seems. All of the togetherness, peace, and good-will toward men comes with a grand helping of isolation, sadness, and guilt. Without meaning to, the holiday season does its damnedest to remind us all of what we’ve lost.

Christmas was a big deal to me when I was growing up. My mom was positively possessed of the holiday spirit. Every inch of our five-bedroom house was decorated; the banisters festooned with garlands, mechanical singing-and-dancing merry-go-rounds on the landing, and an eight-foot-tall tree front and center in the living room. Our hand-made stockings were hung with care o’er the fireplace with limited-edition stocking holders care of the Disney Store. Special towels and holiday-scented soaps were strategically placed in the bathrooms. Stuffed polar bears, reindeer, and Mickey Mouse in a Santa hat were my once-a-year friends. These artifacts became integral to my experience of the holiday season. Without them, the holiday felt pale, lackluster, deficient.

The year I turned eleven was the last of the great Christmases of my childhood. You just can’t stuff a two bedroom apartment with yuletide glee the same way as a two-story home. Being a child of divorce made it happen that Christmas time was more “hum-bug” than “ho-ho-ho”. As I grew, I came to realize that this meant there was no home-base to return to. No childhood bedroom filled to the rafters with relics of my past. No safe-haven to return to after a bad break-up or a fight with the roommate. There was no longer a place to safely store the artifacts my my childhood until such a time came for me to pass those things on to children of my own.

Things disappeared gradually, so much so that I didn’t realize they were missing until it was too late. I assumed the ubiquitous storage units my parents each rented when they moved separately into sad-divorcee apartment blocks would be kept in perpetuity. I assumed that both my mother and father knew, instinctively, that I was counting on keeping my great-grandmother’s china, our family albums, and other assorted pieces from around our home. I assumed that my mother’s horde of Christmas decorations was just as sacred to the adults around me as it was to me personally. In retrospect, perhaps it was all wishful thinking: I wanted these things to be true.

Things were jettisoned over time, in part out of necessity. When my mother and stepfather moved from California to Hawaii in 2003, they could only afford to ship so many things with them, and my grandmother only had room in her garage for so much. Again, I assumed that the things that were being saved and stored were the things that mattered so much to me. In the end, I won’t ever know for sure if that was true.

I came to live with Mom and Al in November of 2004. By Spring of 2008, they were both gone, consumed by separate but voracious illnesses. When Al went, we kept everything. A closet full of aloha shirts, a silver menorah, and a baby grand piano neither of us could play. When Mom got sick two years later, the decision was made that she would move back to the Mainland for treatment and stay with her mother. The piano went with her, but a great deal of Al’s other belongings were passed on to his daughters or donated. We boxed up our whole apartment, including most of my journals, photo albums, and knick-knacks — I was going to live in a much smaller place with a roommate and I wouldn’t have space for it all. I assumed (what was that thing your mother always said about assuming…) that everything would be stored at Grandma’s house, next to great-grandma’s china and Mom’s Christmas Horde. After Mom was gone, it gave me comfort to know that once I was a real grown-up, I could go retrieve those vestiges of our shared past.

We lost a great many things in that fire that consumed my mother’s life. She was more than just the person that gave birth to us. She was our home and the lynch-pin that held our family together. Our greatest cheer-leader and supreme boo-boo kisser. When she went, I lost my friend. My siblings and I, we lost our memory-keeper. And in the intervening years between losing my mother and having a family of my own, I lost my history.

It’s all gone, you see. Every journal I kept from age 13 until 20. Every note and token of love from my first love, which I saved in a (literal) heart-shaped box. Crappy candids of my friends and me in school. Baby-blankets and a sweater knit for me by my Grandy. All of the tangible pieces of the first twenty years of my life. Great-grandma’s china. And all of my mother’s holiday collection.

I frequently force myself to remember that these are just things. Things are not love and they can’t replace the people that you’ve lost. I try to remind myself that I don’t need to cling to these fragments of my past or of my family, because I’m making a new family and building new memories. But it’s hard. It’s hard to decorate a Christmas tree with my daughter and think of a legacy of joy that I won’t be able to pass on to her. It hurts to sit around a table of my in-laws and listen to them tell stories about my husband as he was growing up, knowing that I can’t reciprocate by sitting him down with my mother and having her relive my history for him. It’s sad that so much of what we all seem to take for granted as being permanent and unchangeable, is in fact completely fragile.

I have had to let go of a great deal, but I carry on with traditions and hold my new family close. I’m M’s mommy now. I’m her history-keeper, and I take this appointment seriously. Her stories are written down in baby books and documented in photos. We are building a life and a foundation for her to jump off from and I will make sure that it persists in case she ever wishes to return. Every year, we buy a new ornament and add to our Christmas collection, rich with fondness for what we have and bittersweet joy for what we lost.

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Wrong. All we can do is learn to float.

 

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The War on Christmas (is not)

Okay, so here’s the thing: it seems to me that political correctness is going the way of the dodo. It’s just not cool to be politically correct these days — it’s not edgy or original, and it just doesn’t get people fired up like it used to. The thing people really get excited about nowadays is arguing against being politically correct, because trying to avoid offending other people is so gosh-darn offensive! (As if inclusion and avoidance of microaggressions against minorities are personal attacks on one’s ability to be a member of the majority.) It’s like they’re arguing against “White Guilt”, but with everything: We, as white people, are not at all responsible for systemic racism — it was before my time. We, as able-bodied individuals, shouldn’t feel restricted in our story-telling, and should be free to make jokes at the expense of the disabled. We, as Christians, shouldn’t be put-upon to say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” just because there are other people on this Earth who have different religious beliefs, etc. etc.

Uhg. Get real for a quick sec and unpack your privilege just a teeny-tiny bit: Only 31% of the world’s population is Christian. THIRTY-ONE PERCENT. That means, Mr. High-and-Mighty, that you are sharing this Earth with a whopping 69% of people who don’t follow the teachings of Christ the way that you do — you really think it’s okay to exclude 69% of people from your tidings of holiday joy and peace on Earth? (Incidentally, if you do think that’s ok, I wonder what the Big J would have to say about that, you bigot.)

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I just don’t think the sentiment in this message is very, how do you say… “Christian”. I also have never heard anyone request that it be called “a holiday tree.” Ever.

It is totally up to you if you want to say “Happy Holidays” or not. If someone were to tell me “Merry Christmas”, I wouldn’t be offended. Actually, I don’t know a single person who has ever expressed any offense at receiving a “Merry Christmas” from another person, regardless of their religious beliefs and practices, or lack thereof. However, I do hear an awful lot from people like Donald Trump claiming that each and every “Happy Holidays” (or other equally secular greeting) is tantamount to a war on Christmas. He even went so far as to claim that 7 out of 10 people prefer “Merry Christmas” as a greeting, which is funny since, like I said, only 31% of people are Christian. Perhaps he meant 7 out of 10 Americans? That would be slightly more accurate though that number is dropping all the time.

Despite the fact that they are the cultural, if not the actual, majority in our modern society, Christians are the only ones bitching and moaning about the “loss of our sacred holiday”, despite the obvious problems with conflating “sacred” and “commercialized nightmare”. It’s as if they believe that December belongs only to Christmas, and all other yuletide celebrations are intruding. Don’t believe me? Think about your local mega-mart — none of your neighborhood Jews complain that this represents the entirety of their available holiday shopping:

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Well, at least they don’t complain to YOU.

But you best believe that if your local Target decided to invest as much real estate in their Hanukkah display as their Christmas display, shit would hit the fan.

So what’s all the fuss about? No one is asking you to be politically correct, and no one is offended by your “Merry Christmas”. By and large, the only people who are complaining are those members of the majority who are so intensely threatened by the mere existence of minority groups, that they don’t want those groups represented or recognized at all.

I’ll let that sink in for a second.

Majority groups, like Christians, like Caucasians, aren’t actually in danger of loosing their high level of privilege, but still they are so terrified by the slightest suggestion of equal representation, that any attempt at inclusion has them flying off the handle. As if to elevate minorities would cost the majority anything more that absolute control over the world that they have monopolized since time immemorial.

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Well, I guess if I had all of the power and all of the privilege, I might have some minor control issues, too.

It’s a shame that so many Christians fall into this mental trap. (Parenthetically it should be noted that of course I am not directing these criticisms toward all Christians. It is just easier to write in absolutes, so bear with me.) Maybe it’s built in to their belief system, the whole “martyr” thing, but truthfully, y’all have nothing to worry about. So long as Christianity is the opiate of the masses… uh, I mean, the favored religion of English-speaking Caucasians, you guys are in-like-Flynn. Nigh irreproachable. (Well, sort of.) And no amount of elevation of minority group status can touch you. Go find something else to invest all of that prodigious energy into that will actually do someone some good, why doncha?

 

Jingle all the … GTFO.

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I am resolutely and completely unprepared for the holiday season. It was mid-October when I saw the first banners go up around the shopping plaza, and at that time, it just pissed me off. Rampant consumerism gone mad! Adding an extra six week weeks to the shopping season, and jumping the gun ahead of my favorite holiday. Halloween hadn’t even come and gone yet. Cool your fucking jets!

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As we lapsed into November, each subsequent display of green and red further wore down my resolve. This is it, I said to myself, there’s no help for you now. The holiday season has come. At that point, I gave up the fight, but still, I could not for the life of me muster any semblance of the holiday spirit. Every ringing Salvation Army bell was an assault on my senses, the familiar sounds of carols on the supermarket PA system was a dirge amid the cacophony of early Christmas shoppers. As friends and coworkers began to discuss plans for holiday parties, I felt myself withdraw further, immediately exhausted by the mere suggestion of any such gathering.

However, that the space within my mind was still no refuge. The halls within were likewise decked – not so much dancing with pictures of sugar plums, but lined with lists of holiday shopping to be done, Christmas and Hanukkah cards that would need to be mailed, of phone calls home that would need to be dialed. Will I be able to host a Yuletide ritual this year (we are a multi-faith family, in case you couldn’t tell)? Where is the money coming from to finance our gift-giving this year, sparse though it may be? And there, lingering in the dark was the Ghost of Christmas’ Past, waiting for her due consideration.

My hanai-mom uses the phrase “raised by wolves” to describe my (and hers, and several others whom she knows) traumatic upbringing. If you are also part of this Wolf Tribe, then you already know – shit goes down at Christmas time. It is a long known and veritable fact. The fat man in red comes out to play, and your ears perk up like a hunted animal, the fight or flight instinct activated. Sirens going off. It’s all hands on deck. You are battle ready. Despite the fact that Christmas was, by all rights, a HUGE holiday in our house – huge, like, decorations to rival the North Pole’s greatest and finest – the holiday season was fraught. How could it not be? You take a home already stressed to its limit with individuals suffering from various mental illnesses and addictions, add some crippling debt and social compulsions, cook over the boiling mass of the November-December months, and whattaya get? It’s not good, let me tell you.

Merry Christmas, kids!
Merry Christmas, kids!

Still, I look back on those Christmases and I wish I could bring some of the fervor back. Christ, did my mom have fervor. She did the Christmas thing like it was her job. I actually would have liked to carry on that portion of the family tradition, but have been stymied, in part because all of her decorations were misplaced or destroyed over the years, and in part because, well, bah-hum-bug! I seem to have inherited and, over time, nursed my old man’s Ebenezer Scrooge attitude. Every year, I find myself bah-hum-bugging earlier and more often. It’s ironic, in a way, for how often I railed against my dad’s anti-holiday-cheer campaign when I was little. Looking back I think it was, on his part, very good-natured, though it really bothered me at the time. I loved the holiday season so completely – I loved being on break from school so I could spend time with my parents, I loved the cookie baking, the present wrapping, the tree-trimming – all the best parts that didn’t involve yelling, slamming doors, and sirens.

I suppose that’s why I find each year’s initial encounter with the Ghost of Christmas’ Past so exhausting. Each year I am reminded of what I would like to bring back for my daughter – the good stuff – and what I must strive, every day, to avoid. Perhaps this, too, is why folks with depression and other mood disorders find the holidays especially taxing. Though I have come to learn in the past few years that the oft-quoted statistic of increased suicides during the winter months is inaccurate, it seems to me that (at least anecdotally) the population does tend to struggle a little more during this time.

Self-care is important all year-round, of course, so don’t forget that there are resources available to you if you feel like you’re slipping through the cracks. Perhaps this year would be a good time to discuss openly and candidly that while suicide doesn’t necessarily increase in incidence over the holidays, the Holiday Blues are not to be trifled with — we all struggle, and I suspect that we all have feelings of loss associated with this time of year. If you also find this to be true, please take care; should the clock strike one on a cold winter’s night and you come face to face with the spectre of your own Christmas’ Past, do not fear. Greet her, and let her show you what you may have missed, what you may want to carry back.