[A note on this post: Do you get Night Sadness? Where it's the evening and you feel like everything is crappy and hopeless for no particular reason? It's kind of like depression except that it's only occasional and it goes away by morning. Anyway, when I wrote this post I had Night Sadness, and when morning came I felt happy about the holidays again---though I do still find I'm connecting each happy thing ("Almost time to put up the lights, yay!") with the corresponding sad thing ("Ug, and then we'll have to take them down, and they always look so tacky and sad as soon as Christmas is over"). And so then I felt a little silly about this post, but I'm on a deadline here so I'm going with what I've got---particularly because I am certain to feel this way again and again before it's January and we can relax and enjoy the inventory clearance sales.]
I’ve been up to my hairline in holiday shopping and I’m sick of it. I don’t want to think about things to buy, look at things to buy, or find pictures of things to buy. And I haven’t even bought a single thing yet: this is just from a couple of evenings of browsing the options while eating too much sugar, and an ad that suggested a diamond necklace as a “stocking stuffer” (PEZ are stocking stuffers! Pez and Silly Putty and teensy cans of Pringles! not GEMSTONES!), and way too many PR emails starting “Dear Ms, With the holidays nearly upon us…”
There are times it all seems super-ridiculous: we have this whole holiday season, and the way we celebrate it is by buying things. Some of us put up a whole tree and decorate it, to have a place for the presents to live. We give things to the children’s teachers, who then talk in the teachers’ lounge about how they have “closets full” of stuff they don’t want or need, or how they throw out anything baked because who knows what the kitchen was like. We give presents to each other, and it’s not really what we wanted. And then January is the parade of bills—as if January isn’t gloomy enough already.
And this is where it turns into a sermonette, right? Out comes the tired old eyes-to-the-sky stuff about how the gifts and the trees and the lights are just “trimmings,” and the main course is the Real Spirit of the Season: family or friends or religion or kindness or goodwill toward all mankind, whatever the sermonizer thinks the Real Spirit is or should be.
But I’m not turning it in that direction, because I DON’T notice much Real Spirit around the holidays. I don’t see many people shining with the light of holiday love, or being particularly nice to each other, or focusing anywhere near as much on their religions as they do on the shopping. What I see is mostly a lot of grousing about how the stores are decorated too early, and then a lot of worrying about expenses, and a lot of fretting about how to make other people happy with possessions, and a lot of stress about having company and parties and planning, and the harder-to-decline-than-usual pleas from charities for donations, and a lot of self-reproach for eating or for not exercising or for gaining weight, and then it is ALL OVER and what’s left is a pile of stuff to incorporate into the household, a pile of trash to go out to the curb, a whole lot of foil wrapping paper in the recycling bin, a bunch of bills, and that bad after-feeling. And then a fresh calendar, and twelve months until we do it again: the holiday of buying stuff.
Or maybe this is where it turns into a sermonette of advice for a cure, which would involve handmade gifts this year, or donations to charity as presents, or deliberately turning our focus in another direction, or trying to give experiences instead of possessions, or committing random acts of kindness, or adopting a family in need, or concentrating on What Really Matters, or agreeing as a family to pull the spending wayyyy back this year, or going Christmas caroling and stringing popcorn in an effort to get back to basics, or the whole amorphous concept of SIMPLIFICATION.
But I’m not turning it in that direction, either, because it seems like a lot of “solutions to holiday stress” end up being additional sources of stress: now we have to get the perfect gift AND it has to be handmade; now we have to add volunteer work to our list of chores; now we have to sing in the freezing cold when we hate doing that; now we have to self-loathe about all our decorations and gifts and our entire culture and every way we do things; now we have to take a Holiday Yoga class; now everything has to be perfect AND simple. A lot of the stuff even IS good ideas, but we’ve heard them all by now and we’ve already incorporated the ones that work for us. It’s like hearing the same old dieting tips.
As it turns out, I’m not going anywhere with this—except, no doubt, over to my parents’ house to assure them a hundred times that YES I will be excited and have a wonderful time as usual, YES of course it IS about family and Lindt chocolate Santas, YES I’ll no doubt soon get into my usual excited shopping mood, NO we don’t need to do that thing about giving each other donations to charity, YES this is just a fleeting mood, NO it’s just a pre-holiday stress vent, NO the solution is not to CANCEL CHRISTMAS. I even got a little perked up just now when Elizabeth (age 4) said she hoped she’d get Hello Kitty markers AND new shoes for Christmas: those will be fun to buy.