The Holidays — the six weeks of Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Christmas, and New Years — are a magnifier. In general, happy people get happier, sad people get sadder, lonely people get lonelier, etc. This is true for children, adolescents, adults, and the elderly.
For some, life is going pretty well, and the holidays are the most wonderful time of year, chock full of sentimental decorations, music, food, smells, and traditions that celebrate love, peace, family, friendship, and all that is good in life. The holidays are the icing on a good cake. Bring it on. All of it.
For others, the holidays are not so happy. Instead, it is a time full of the most painful reminders of what is not present in their lives. For them, the holidays bring out their deepest, saddest feelings of loss and yearning. At every turn, there is a reminder of what is not.
Perhaps it is the thought of a loved one who will never be near again, a job loss that is a major career setback, a recent miscarriage, or a happy family that only exists in daydreams. Seeing others celebrating with family and friends just makes these people more sad and lonely. It’s very difficult for them to think “good for you” at every turn. Instead, the jealous pangs of losses and longings are an open sore throbbing through the holidays.
For some, the holidays are a mixed bag, a magnifier of a very challenging everyday life. It is the best of times and the worst of times. For these people, there is no holiday. Some have a mountain of debt to pay off, so work takes top priority here and now. Some provide chronic care for a disabled family member, and the work never ends. Some have stressful careers that won’t slow down in spite of the demands of a large family with massive layers of labor-intensive family traditions. For these folks, the pockets of holiday bliss are surrounded by busy, demanding responsibilities that increase from Thanksgiving through New Years. The stress and the joy counterbalance each other, so it truly is the best and the worst of times.
Without divulging the gruesome details, I can share that my family holiday experience is all over the place: joy, anger, sorrow, monotony, and good humor. I have had all the extremes and everything in between. I have been both loving and hating the holidays, which is how I feel about life in general. I have tremendous blessings in my family and in my personal life, and yet I have major problems and obstacles that often feel consummately unfair, mostly related to my daughter’s disabilities. “Why me again, God? Why can’t things go smoothly more than just once in a while?” And yet, I have so much. I can count my blessings for hours on end, even while complaining about some legitimately tough stuff. It’s complicated.
Wherever you are on the holiday spectrum, whether you feel like you are already suffering from PHSD (Post Holiday Stress Disorder) or if you just can’t wait for next Thanksgiving because you love the holidays so much, please keep in mind that not everybody is in your boat and the waters you are floating on may be very different next time around. For some, that’s good news, and for others it’s not. Either way, be aware of others around you.
Do your best to make the best of your holiday situation, while being sensitive to those around you. If yours is an unhappy holiday, then allow others to have their happy times. Don’t take that gift away from them in any way. After all, next year might be a big year of celebration for you. And if your holiday is full of joy now, then fully enjoy it, and find a way to bless someone who is less fortunate this year. Look around and consider who might be feeling a loss or a longing of some kind, then do something special for them. Isn’t that what the holidays are about anyway? Give to those who need it the most!
Let’s not curse Christmas, mock Chanukah, or scoff at the New Year’s Resolutions. I’ve been there. I’ve been a holiday hater, and it’s not a good place to be. The better way is to fight discontentment by counting your blessings, enjoying the simple pleasure, and sharing the love.
No matter who you are or what your holiday vibe is right now, I hope that your holidays are better than expected.