It’s the most… complicated time of the year. For plenty of people I know, Christmastime, the holidays, New Year’s… They can be a tidal wave of emotion, reflection, regret and just plain sadness.
The toughest things I’ve been through have almost all happened in the month of December. A baby on the 23rd at the tiny age of 19. The death of my first husband in a car accident on December 28th when we were both just 26. (Only to bury him on New Year’s Eve. If you’re already not feeling festive, you can read more about that here or here. ) And eventually, the final undoing of my second marriage on the darkest Christmas Eve in my history, when we finally could not un-ring the bell.
And all of this among a few other losses, if-onlys and what-ifs.
There is a pressure to love December and Christmas and all things holly jolly like no other time of year. You can say you hate summer or the 4th of July or Labor Day, but what kind of jerk doesn’t like Christmas? There’s a shame attached to it that’s unmistakable. Months in advance we’re impressed with how we’re supposed to feel about the holidays. There’s an anticipation that begins around Halloween and doesn’t relent until the final carol has been sung. You’re supposed to be happy. You’re supposed to feel joy. You’re supposed to feel lighthearted and whimsical and ready to party and celebrate and exchange food and gifts and time and affection. So when you don’t feel all these things, the only reasonable conclusion is there must be something wrong with you.
But the truth is, holiday depression is a real thing and more people feel this way than are willing to admit. For so many, the dramatic emphasis on love, cheer and goodwill only reflects the lack of it in their own lives. Any other time of year, we know how to deal–but December’s over the top expectations have us staring a little too hard and long at all the spaces in our lives that fall short and feel empty.
Just think of the Grinch or Ebenezer Scrooge– both infamous for their dislike of December 25th. (Although truthfully, the Grinch never really hated Christmas. He hated people, which is fair.)
If you want cold hard facts, one North American survey reports that 45% of Americans dread the holiday season. Ouch. Pass the eggnog.
Here’s the good news: December is just another month. The end of one year and the beginning of a new one bringing brand new chances and opportunities for peace and happiness. And although it seems to loom for weeks, Christmas is only one single day. If it turns out to be a good one, hooray for you! But if it ends up going off the rails, clock out early, crawl into bed and wake up renewed on the 26th and move on with your life.
You don’t have to love December. You don’t have to love Christmas. You don’t have to be or do or feel a certain way. About anything. Ever. It doesn’t make you a bad person, a sad person, or a less-than person. It makes you a real person. And there’s nothing better than being real about yourself, the season of life you’re in, and how things are actually going. If you’re not feeling strong enough to celebrate and socialize, don’t feel bad about telling the people around you, “Thanks, but I’m just not up for that right now.” With no apologies. On the flip side, sometimes getting out of your own head and being with people is exactly what you need if your sadness has you turned a little too far internally.
But the best part? You get to choose.
I’ve worked really hard to change my narrative around Christmas the past few years, not just for my own sake, but for my kids, too. There is enough December sadness in our memories, so I’ve been intentionally trying to lean into the magic and light around me, knowing it’s a choice. On the days I just can’t, that’s okay; I don’t have to do it perfectly. The past few Decembers, I feel peaceful and grateful and actually, a little bit Christmas-y. But I never forget about my friends who don’t. And I still don’t love December or Christmas. Accepting that and not judging myself for it has been a gift.
Cheers to January, friends. We’re almost there.