The Hard Side of Holidays

It’s December, again. Somehow in the months since the last holiday season, we’ve continued to fail at pulling our lives together. Amazing, right?

We forgot how to keep the facade we managed to maintain last time. This idea of perfection and grace that we tell ourselves we so cleverly portrayed to friends and family in the past. It helps us keep the memories glossy and bright, both in our minds and in theirs.

We try to keep the many traditions alive. The tree is up, the stockings hung, the cookie bake-off complete. And then we hustle and bustle around to get everything done before the holidays and gripe about the same things everyone else does,”I can’t believe it’s here already! I’ve got so much to do!”

The family makes plans and so often, despite the lengthy calls and emails, it very much resembles last year’s plans, food, and locations.

Some years, everything is just about the same and only the gifts and outfits change. That’s what we try to make ourselves believe and expect, especially if we have happy memories of holidays in the past. If we hated whatever happened last year, the optimist in us declares it will be different and more manageable this time while our inner pessimist plans for the worst.

We walk into the party or family get together with expectations or a pile of gifts as if we too can mimic the movies. Because, after all, wouldn’t it be lovely if it worked out that way?

But some years, everything inside us is different. Maybe we bring the same side dish or continue to hang our favorite ornament in the prime location on the tree. Regardless, something stops us from thinking clearly or breathing normally.

This was the year of the…Divorce. Death. Unemployment. Crippling illness. Unforeseen tragedy.

Whatever it was, suddenly we’re forced to confront not only our normal everyday life with that loss but also the holidays. These days of “happiness and cheer” that we previously imagined to go so differently…or rather, we imagined them to be at least the same if not better than before. Not worse. No, we can’t fathom facing them with this gaping hole in our hearts.

But the traditions must go on! Because, of course, there will be eggnog and presents under the tree. So we march on with our uncertain emotions and wide-open vulnerabilities.

Maybe we’re greeted with knowing looks or gentle side hugs. Maybe our feelings are totally dismissed in the name of the festivities. Some of the people there know what was lost, but perhaps others were kept in the dark since “it” happened.

Honestly, we can’t decide what feels worse — the fact that everyone goes on with the holidays as per usual or that we can’t simply join in and do the same, ignoring all the hurt and pain.

Life feels upside down, so the idea of celebrating together seems foreign and awful. How could they? Why can’t we all just cancel? Just this once?

But then who are we to spread misery to everyone just because this year is hard on us? I certainly don’t want to bring down everyone’s spirits or make things worse than they already are.

Is that why we pretend? Deep down, we too want this to be a joyous occasion, so is building up a facade the only way? Of course, no one wants to ruin the day or upset Grandma. But is there an option for honesty? Will there be a space for grieving or failure this year? It just doesn’t seem to fit in the nice family photos or memories of pleasantries we have to uphold.

Caught in the middle of a hard place and holiday cheer, we press on and do the best we can.

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