After last week’s brief (I swear) foray into politics, this week we’ll do Cliched Blog Topic #286 and I’ll give a few thoughts about the (extremely) fast-approaching Christmas holiday. It is a time when lots of us will get together with friends and family to celebrate (not necessarily, or even usually, anything religious), to exchange gifts that are really (I think) tokens of our affection and appreciation for each other, and eat some special meals. For many people, it’s their favourite time of the year, and a stretch of days that is so focused on people being (in theory!) great to each other is not really that difficult to appreciate.
On the other hand, it’s well-known that a lot of people end up feeling disappointed by the holidays, and sometimes more sad and lonely than they did before. It’s not immediately easy to see how a time of year focused around celebration and joy can do that, but I can certainly attest that it can. It’s not hard to find lots of thoughtful explanations from psychologists as to why this may be. I guess I have a few thoughts of my own.
As I often do, I think about the difference between fiction and reality. Christmas (and really most holidays) are a fiction that is both created for us and created by us. We get lots (and lots, and LOTS) of representations of what Christmas is supposed to be like in books and TV shows and movies, and I think it’s nearly impossible to avoid internalizing at least some of that. Christmas, our fiction tells us, is supposed to be a time when problems get suddenly fixed. Old disputes are resolved. Separated people and communities get reunited. People find the partner they’re ‘meant’ to be with. Even problems of money or employment or places to live get abruptly solved.
It makes for lovely stories with heartwarming, hopeful endings, and I do think (as I’ve said in previous entries) that positive endings often make for good stories. Of course the tricky part is that if you’re expecting that Christmas is going to resolve all your problems, and then it doesn’t, it’s very easy to feel disappointed, and for your problems to seem all the more insurmountable. I don’t think most people honestly expect ‘Christmas magic’, but on a subconscious level we expect that Christmas (or any holiday, really) are going to be these lovely special times when everything goes well and then if things are less than perfect, we wonder what the heck went wrong.
For what it’s worth I think this sometimes happens with our fictions in general; our fictional worlds often provide portrayals of reality where things work out as we’d like them to and characters live the sorts of lives we think we’d enjoy and (often) other characters who aren’t very nice face the sorts of consequences we think they deserve. It’s easy to look at the difference between that and the real world and think that it doesn’t measure up. But, of course, it can’t – we like fiction precisely because we can arrange it (as writers) just how we want it and have things fall just how we’d like. That’s immensely satisfying (both for writers and readers) but obviously the real world isn’t under direction in that way at all, at Christmas or at any other time of the year.
Fortunately there’s lots of good advice out there about how to manage expectations as the holidays approach. My own thinking here is that it’s worth remembering that if the holidays are largely a fiction, we’re not characters in a story subject to the whims of an author. We get to decide (obviously in collaboration with all the other authors we know) how things are going to work out. We don’t have to wait and hope that a resolution is provided; we’re the ones writing our own stories and a great many things are, therefore, ours to control, at least to some extent. It’s a little more difficult to think of how to find solutions to our problems (a solution that may, sometimes, involve asking for help, as scary as that is to do) than it is to wait for a resolution to be provided, but it’s also much more likely. There’s always power in being the author, and we are all the authors of our own holiday story.
I think, also, reaching back to another earlier blog entry, it does help to recall how immensely fortunate most of us are. Sure, there are things we’d change, there are issues we’ve got to deal with, and things about our lives we’d change if we could (and perhaps we will!). However, I know that as I sit here fretting a little about Christmas, I am also living a life that huge numbers of people would jump on in an instant. Every day we live in these tremendously affluent, extraordinarily free and exceptionally safe societies is a huge gift. That’s not to minimize the problems we have (they’re real, they often really suck) but it’s something to put in the balance.
Anyway, thanks for reading another very rambly entry. Hopefully there was something that worked in there for you. Whatever holiday traditions you may or may not observe at this time of year, I hope you all enjoy yourselves and have some wonderful times with people who are important to you. Be kind to each other. Reach out for help if you need it; there are people who want to give it to you. If you happen to see or talk to someone who seems to be having a rough time at the holidays, give them whatever warmth you can. I can attest, again, that even a little thing can help a lot. Overall, things probably won’t be perfect, but I hope you’ll find plenty of good things to take pleasure in. Go write yourselves a good story for the end of this year.