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A Real, Happy Holiday


I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, but I don’t love Christmas. I am drawn to the idea of it, both spiritually and seasonally, but it has rarely lived up to my expectations. I grew up in a family in which I was the youngest by a decade. This meant that I was the only one looking out the window on Christmas Eve to see if Santa was really landing his sled on neighborhood rooftops—and definitely alone in waking up early on Christmas Day to see what he’d brought me. As the years passed, there was often conflict and drinking, and more trying to make it good than it ever actually turned out to be. For as long as she lived, my mother pushed the notion of the happy family Christmas, and I wished for it for her sake. But in the end, we were both disappointed, and I felt as if I’d been drawn into a fairly complex pretense.

I’m becoming a sucker for the gestures and traditions I get to enjoy with my sweet family of friends.

Of course, all of that was years ago. I’ve managed as an adult to make my way through the seemingly endless few weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’ve even greatly reduced the amount of whining and complaining I do and I consciously aim for optimism and cheer whenever I can. I’ve learned to plan a trip for right after the holidays, when I am able, which gives me something fun to anticipate. It also distracts me from constantly wanting to point to what’s behind the curtain of the “we’re all a big, happy family, having fun at Christmas show.”


But, as with most situations in which I have been extra cynical, my own lovely life always steps up to prove me wrong. Almost without noticing it, I suddenly have my own reasons to actually feel ok about the holidays. Because Jodi could win every “Most Optimistic” prize available in any setting, even I am softened by her ability to enjoy the smallest things. She loves going out to the shed in late November to move things around and find the box of Christmas ornaments. When I would normally be rolling my eyes and muttering something about, “What’s the point of all of this?” I am even a bit inspired by her spirit. She wraps and bakes and finds little things in every store to give to her adult children. I don’t know that she would say she loves the holidays, but she would never waste her time campaigning against them as I have made a habit of doing.


I am also starting to see this time of year as one of beginnings—most literally of the new year. No matter how many resolutions I make and break, I’m game for a new set in late December. This year, I’m vowing to let myself have higher expectations, to focus on how full my glass really is, and to take heart in the ebb and flow of things. Although I expect to have better luck with these resolutions than those I used to make about losing 10 pounds and getting richer, it’s still always a challenge to let myself just be happy with what is.


No one is that thrilled with Christmas this year, I know. Omicron caused stress for everyone, whether you were traveling, getting together with more than your own little pod, or trying to find a drugstore that had a supply of at-home Covid tests. But it has also made us all remember what we feel grateful for, and what simple things bring us joy. I’m learning, little by little, to look past the sweeping displays and extravaganzas. That’s when I see the dogs playing crazily with their Christmas bones in the living room, or when we go for a spontaneous walk in the rain. It's in those small places that this lovely, authentic life is thriving. I get it on this late December day that I’m not the audience for the big, pretentious displays of holiday cheer, but I’m a sucker for the gestures and traditions I get to enjoy with my sweet family of friends.