I’m one of those last-minute shoppers. The one with the frazzled look on her face and absolutely no sign of a coherent list. I’m blatantly winging it. I’m not proud of it, but it’s what I do. Every year I tell myself that next Christmas I’ll get organized and plan months in advance. Every year, I procrastinate and get knocked over sideways by the sudden realization that it’s Dec. 18 and OH MY GOD why did I do this to myself again?
Not to worry, though. It always works out.
I perform well under pressure.
The holidays, however, have a way of bringing out stress even in people who haven’t elevated procrastination to an art form. Between the incessant shopping (that we’ve been conditioned and brainwashed into believing is required), the relentless back-to-back social events (you will put on the sparkly top and engage in Christmas cheer for the fifth night in a row if it kills you – and it might), and the expectations of what these oh-so-holy days should be, we’re bound to be at the losing end of it all.
In “A Charlie Brown Christmas”, poor Charlie exclaims: “I just don’t understand Christmas. Instead of feeling happy, I feel sort of let down.” I’ve got news for you, kid. So do the rest of us.
Our expectations are what usually set the scene for the hundreds of emotional meltdowns about to unfold. Holiday blues happen every year, as people suddenly realize the yawning gap between what they have been conditioned to expect (thanks, Hollywood and Hallmark TV specials!) and their reality. That moment when they realize that the picture in their head simply doesn’t match the picture in front of them. In most cases, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with their reality, even though everything around them is conspiring to delude them into believing it pales in comparison to everyone else’s (it’s called commercialism, folks).
I can assure you that every family has some variation of sibling rivalry, of that weird uncle who gets drunk and utters nonsense at the table, the disappointing family dynamics that resemble nothing of George Bailey’s home life. It’s enough to make you rush to the nearest mall, point an accusatory finger at Santa and yell 'you sit on a throne of LIES,' but you shouldn’t. Christmas doesn’t disappoint. You just need to readjust your expectations.
"Christmas - that magic blanket that wraps itself about us, that something so intangible that it is like a fragrance. It may weave a spell of nostalgia. Christmas may be a day of feasting, or of prayer, but always it will be a day of remembrance - a day in which we think of everything we have ever loved." - Augusta E. Rundel
Our silly pre-conceived notions are what make us long for snow during the holidays. We could care less if the white stuff came down the rest of the year, but it better be falling by Dec. 24 or panic sets in! After all, Irving Berlin’s 'I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas' has set the standard for what to expect. We humans are such a delightful case study in emotional manipulation, aren’t we?
Still, I love the holidays. I love this time of year that suddenly makes it OK for people to be a little kinder, a little gentler and a little more forgiving towards one another. When I hear 'I’ll be Home for Christmas,' on the radio, my heart melts. I want to be home. I want to be sitting on the couch in my PJs on Christmas morning with my silly, imperfect family, finishing off the last of the shortbread cookies, drinking hot cocoa, and watching Elf for the third time. Something in me desperately wants what I don’t really mind not having the rest of the year.
Because Christmas, at its base, is about connecting. The gifts, the calorie-laden elaborate meals, the alcohol-infused parties -- all they really are, is us telling one another “I love you. You mean something to me. My world would be a little less happy without you in it.”
Sometimes the approach is clumsy and commercial. Sometimes it’s unsuccessful. But what gives the holidays their magic is the attempt. The attempt to be transported back to a time when we had no worries, no social filters and no heartache. Back to a childhood when the Christmas tree towered over our little-kid bodies and we believed Santa was real and our parents would live forever. A place that no longer exists, but we so desperately wish still did…