- Mental Health
Holiday Anxiety and Responsibility
The Scent of Fall
Holiday Wonder and Responsibility
In the fall, when the air starts to become chilly and wet, and the leaves start to turn in color, tumbling feather light into soft orange and gold piles on the ground, a scent rises into the air like no other time of the year. It's a scent filled with nature; moist earth, loam, and wet leaves. You breathe in great gulps of it, almost as if you want to drink it. People walk outside in the mornings and instinctively lift their heads higher, flaring their nostrils and breathing deeply to take in this heady scent. Along with the scent comes a flood of memories, normally good ones. Fall is the time when all the good, fun things start to happen.
Shadows and Mystery
First, there is Halloween. This is a magical time of the year. It is said that at the time of the fall solstice, the gate between the worlds of the living and the dead are at their very thinnest, and strange apparitions may appear and walk the earth for this one night. This is a night of seances, connecting with the dead and a time of remembrance of all those who lived before us. This is a night when fear and mystery is celebrated, where we can pretend to be anyone or anything our hearts desire. It's not meant to be celebrated by only the young; it's meant to be celebrated by the young at heart. We all, every one, can go outside after dark and parade through our neighborhoods unrecognized, and enjoy participating in a surreal world of princesses, fairies, cowboys and monsters, when we can not only dress up but act out the parts we have chosen to play. We can collect candy, share a warm cup of coffee or cocoa, and enjoy being scared out of our wits, all in relative safety. Halloween is the time we carve pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns, bob for apples and eat candy corn. It's creeping through corn mazes to be startled at every corner by... nothing, and riding in the back of hay-filled wagons to enjoy and scream in delight at the displays and shows others have worked hard all year to design for this one special night. It's flickering golden candlelight dancing over indefinite shadows.
It's all about scary excitement and the mysterious, ethereal, unfamiliar things that live - or don't live - on the other side of the veil.
About Friends and Family
Then there is Thanksgiving, a day that is meant to celebrate the harvest. It's a day to sit back and survey, in grateful satisfaction, all the gifts that our past hard work and life and love has given to us. This is a day, once again, when we remember the folks who came before us, and appreciate all the sacrifice, all the blood, sweat, and tears that was shed to make our world what it is today. We focus our appreciation on the pilgrims who braved drowning, starvation, disease and thirst, crossing the wide oceans to reach Plymouth Rock; but it was not only that. It was everything that happened to make us who and what we are today. The Native Americans who received us, the pioneers, the warriors, the soldiers, all who acted out the events that determined the fate of our world throughout history.
People look back now with shame on how our country came about, but by the actions of all, this pattern was played out, and we became the people that we are today. There is no turning back. Thanksgiving is not about the bad things that happened, but the good that came out of it. Thanksgiving is about counting our blessings, not our faults. We have plenty of time throughout the rest of the year to do that. Thanksgiving is about being grateful for all the miracles and bounty that we have worked for, fought for, and been gifted, at this very moment; today.
Thanksgiving is a time for family and friends to relax in each others company, leaving all the weapons of past grudges and discord in a haphazard pile outside the door. Thanksgiving is when we speak of good things, and the things we truly appreciate about each other. It's when we sneak, giggling, into kitchen throughout the whole day, to snatch samples of the treats that are cooking or cooling on the stove. It's football and food. It's when we reminisce, laugh, play, and happily help each other with the preparations, along with all of our cousins and friends, and then sit down to table and stuff ourselves shamelessly until we can't possibly take one more bite. At that point, we stretch, pop loose the top button on our pants, and then proceed to eat a thick slice of pumpkin pie.
Thanksgiving is about about appreciating what we have, but it's also about touching base with the people that haven't been seen all year, watching football games, relaxing, and eating food.
The Magic of 2:45 am
Then there is Christmas. Or Winterfest. Or Winter Break.
Christmas is a religious holiday, that celebrates the birth of Christ. It falls on top of the Winterfest celebrations that are observed during the winter solstice. Over time, these two have been blended into one. But Winterfest isn't about religion, so religion will not be discussed here.
Winterfest is about the cold. It's about relieving the tedium from the months that are the hardest to survive, the months where all is stark and bare, cold and colorless. In the past, before electricity, bits of evergreen and red berries were brought into the house to brighten the décor and freshen the scent. People would stay inside by the fire, in the warmth, and simply sit around together, making and doing things they wouldn't otherwise do if they could be outdoors. They could whittle toys and repair equipment, knit or sew clothing to give to each other. This is a time when people talk to each other and tell stories about the past. We learn more about each other personally throughout these months, and build closer bonds than at any other time of the year.
It's also about snowball fights and sledding, sleigh rides, twinkling tiny white lights that sparkle on the snow. And pranksters.
For a child, this can be a time of pure magic. It was for me; I remember. The air had some strange, unknown quality to it when I awoke to total silence in my darkened room on Christmas morning. That strange sense of mystery followed me out of my room as I crept slowly out into the dark, deserted hallway at 3:14 in the morning. I peeked nervously through the bannisters, down the stairs to squint at the lighted tree which stood all shadowy in the corner of the living room. Was the space at the bottom of the tree still empty? No! And look! The stockings were so full that they had to be left sitting on the floor because they wouldn't hang up anymore!
My little childish heart fluttered in my chest, and I jumped up and ran into my parents room, shrieking about how our house had been broken into by some total stranger, this mysterious magical man in red. No, I hadn't seen him; but that's who it was! My rumpled, patient family would all get up at this ridiculous hour and come downstairs, fix a pot of tea, and marvel at all the miraculous items that were to be discovered in the living room that hadn't been there the night before. Cookie crumbs and orange peels would be scattered on the ground, but all the carrots would be gone, and the milk glass would just have a little film left lying on the bottom of it. Mom would complain a bit about the mess; how could someone so magical, who could do all these wondrous things, be such a sloppy eater? Well, he was in a hurry of course. She'd forgive him.
It was magic. Pure magic.
I loved the childhood magic, and still do. I want to keep that alive in the hearts of everyone, for as long as possible. I want others to feel exactly the way I did when I was creeping down those steps at four in the morning, and experience that sense of wonder. Some strange, mysterious person, whom I had never actually met, had flown a heavy sleigh to my house and landed it without a sound on my roof. He left it sitting there with eight very large, heavy reindeer stamping and prancing, then crammed himself and a sack of presents down the chimney (or the stovepipe or the dryer vent) and very carefully, in complete silence, set up a beautiful display of bright, colorfully wrapped packages. It didn't matter what was in them. It was the fact that they had appeared, seemingly out of nothing, overnight. And I had never heard one single hoof hit the roof.
Helping each other
Giving and Receiving
The winter holidays are about remembering and appreciating, once again, all that came before us, to make us what we are today. It's about giving instead of receiving. Now is a time when we look at our community, to see if others are enjoying the same bounty, and if not, now is the time that we feel compelled to share what we have with them. Winter is the hardest season to survive without food and shelter, and so it makes sense that we would make this time, specifically, a time to look around us and ensure that all of us within our circle of influence have sufficient provisions to last the winter months. We give to charities and we give directly to folks who live close to home.We really should add this aspect to every seasons festivities, every solstice celebration, because in today's world, people need to be helped and supported in every season of the year.
"Ignorance is Bliss"
Above is my version of what the holidays should feel like. I wrote how they felt, to me, when I was a child. Because I was a child, I was free of responsibility; I didn't need to plan anything out, I didn't need to prepare food or buy gifts; what I created with my own hands was enough.
This is how all kids should experience the holidays, I think, with pure innocence and a sense of wonderment and magic, because childhood lasts such a very short time. If we can come away from our childhood with feel-good memories like these, we should want for that to continue. Holidays are not the time for us to learn the dark lessons of the world; it's a time for reconnecting and appreciating all the positives.
But Then You Grow Up.
But then you grow up, and things change. People make things ugly, and how and why this happens isn't a mystery to me, but it is very disappointing.
Halloween. People spend a lot of time just arguing about this holiday. It's all about sin and evil. People associate hideously gory movies with it. Death isn't a celebration, it's a thing to be feared and reviled, even though all of us, at some point, will participate in it. People do mean spirited, vicious things to each other while hidden in disguise. Candy is poisoned, and people play painful, hurtful pranks that sometimes leave permanent effects on others; people they don't even know. Why? Why can't scariness and the mysteries of death just be experienced in the spirit of fun, for this one day?
Thanksgiving. People spend a lot of time just arguing about this holiday. You hear about how selfish people are on Thanksgiving. It's all about laziness and gluttony. People often don't get to stay home with their family anymore, because it's become a selling holiday. Stores are starting to open very early on Thanksgiving Day, when people used to stay home preparing meals and visiting together. Black Friday follows the day after it. We also have an underlying sense of shame and or self righteousness, depending on your ancestry. People shouldn't be proud of or thankful for this country, because it was made by bulldozing flat the lives of many others. We should feel ashamed and be very uncomfortable with the fact that it even exists today. Why? Why can't we just be thankful and enjoy each other's company without working on this one day?
Which is right? Which is wrong? Does it matter?
And then. Then, there is Christmas; Winterfest. People spend a lot of time just arguing about this holiday. For people who weren't raised in a religion, it's more about the tree and Santa. You still learn about Jesus and Mary and the story of Christ's birth, but for them, Christmas isn't about that. It's about gathering and bonding. That's what all the Holidays are about. But you hear people say you shouldn't speak the word "Christmas" or celebrate "Christmas" unless you celebrate it as a Christian; religiously. "Christ" is in Christmas. In the next breath, they say you can't celebrate the winter holidays by calling them Winterfest, because then you've taken Christ out of it. People fight tooth and nail over the religious aspects, and it can get very ugly. People steal the baby Jesus from holiday displays. Law suits are filed over who gets to put up what decorations in public. and then, there is all the ugliness of the holiday shopping. You see people pulling hair and fighting over the last toy on a shelf, and you see very crowded streets and very grumpy, unhappy people honking and fighting over the same parking space in a parking lot. Very unmerry language is exchanged; good will and the sense of togetherness is replaced by clausterphobia and insensitivity. Why? Why can't we just sit back and enjoy all the fun, silly magical aspects, accept each other, and help each other if we need it, at this time of year?
Isolated and Alone
The holidays aren't always pleasant for everybody. Some folks feel isolated and left out. These are the folks without bonds, without family, without togetherness. Without friends and family. Are there actually people out there who have no one? No one at all? Yes. And for these people, they are made to feel acutely aware of it when every holiday comes to pass. Suicide often results from such intensely negative, emotional feelings. Should we not celebrate, to prevent their pain? I say no, we should celebrate, but I do believe that if the negativity was removed from the holidays, and they were celebrated in the positive light they should be, these ostracized people might come around. Children who experienced negativity their whole lives are not likely to grow up willing to bond and trust in others. But if children are raised to experience wonder, magic, caring, togetherness... love, then pleasant memories will flood their hearts and minds at these celebratory times of the year.
But it's hard to retain that positivity in the real world. The magic, as we grow up, starts to fade. It's not because we grow up that it starts to fade. Being made aware of the negatives and learning about the political issues involved in holidays isn't what kills the magic.
What kills the magic is responsibility.
When we grow up, naturally, we move from dependence to independence. We have to wash your own clothes, do our own dishes, get ourselves up in the morning, work at a job, pay bills, buy food, electricity, phone service, and shelter.
In the early years, we usually have the support of friends and family around us, and life is good. We have the youthful energy and resources so that we can participate in making the magic happen for others. Seeing the delight and wonder in other eyes will make it delightful and real for us as well.
But things happen. Responsibility grows.
We move away from home, get married, have kids. Now we have to pay for ourselves and our own little families. We, who were once dependent on our parents, now have people who depend on us completely. The weight of that responsibility becomes real to us now. We understand now how much our parents sacrificed. They worked jobs they didn't really want to work, cleaned house when they were sick, gave up their own recreational activities and hobbies in order to cater to ours. We start to realize that there are things we never even knew about our parents, because they gave those things up for the sake of the family. When we have a life partner and a newborn infant now looking to us for all of their needs, we start to understand the full weight of what responsibility is. There is no choice; we either provide for our family or we don't. Money that was previously spent frivolously becomes money that is needed for doctor bills, rent, food, school, car care, insurance, taxes...
More time passes, and there comes a time when our parents become too old to care for themselves. Our parents become dependent on us as well. At that point, we have our partners, our kids, and our parents all looking to one person for help and guidance. It's at this point when we look around realize that we have no one to look to ourselves. We have become THE responsible adult.
If we have a good job and make good money, this might not be a big issue. But when we don't have a good job, and don't make good money, it can be the only issue. The magic that once filled the air at this time of year is replaced with a dismal sense of failure that leads to depression and anxiety. When we have to make choices between buying food and replacing the balding tires on the car, the joy that should be filling our holidays falls prey to worry and dread. We understand, now, why people are snarling at each other over a parking spot. It's a release for all the pent up emotion and stress.
Life. It can suck the life right out of you.
The very act of trying to do the right things and be a responsible person can (and does) suck all the magic and fun right out of us. Preparing for a holiday turns into unwanted work, and to our dismay, when we look in the mirror, we see that the excited, fun-filled, wondering kid who once looked forward to the holidays with exuberant anticipation now looks out at you with an expression of dread as the day apporaches. We now see someone who looks more like a tired, overworked, pre-occupied Grinch.
When the Holidays come, it can be a struggle for the responsible adult to find time to prepare and find the resources to make the magic happen. If we are scrimping and saving, anxiety levels rise. Maybe we just flat can't make the magic happen in the bountiful fashion we remember from our own childhood. We must remember; our children weren't there when we were kids, and the magic we create now is going to be their own separate memory. They won't be comparing it to ours. It's the feelings we create, not the gifts, that are going to stand the tests of time. A sense of wonderment can be just as powerful and delightful when it comes in small packages. Presentation is the key. Even a pebble can be made into an object of wonder, if we take the time to make that pebble appear as if it were delivered in some impossible fashion.
When we become responsible, it can be a struggle to let go of it all on the holidays, and leave the weapons of grudges and worry outside the door. It's hard to put life's issues on the back burner and simply relax and enjoy the company of others.
If we need to, we can see that this, too, is a responsibility. What we are creating now, by relaxing and enjoying the holidays, are future fond memories for our families. These memories can effect their whole outlook on life. It is important. We aren't relaxing and having fun for our own selfish gain. We are relaxing and having fun because it improves the quality of life for everyone around us. That includes us.
Nice, but not necessary; it's the feeling that counts
The most important thing we have to remember is that the Holidays aren't about religion or politics, shopping and gifts. The take away from every holiday is the memory. I don't remember what I received on my 10th Christmas, but I do remember the way I felt; the smells, the people, and the warmth around me. I remember feeling a part of the family. I remember belonging. Holidays are about spending time together, and relaxing together. They are about taking a time out, away from real life worries and the world of responsibility. The responsible adult needs this diversion as much - maybe more - than anyone else.
So just do it. Immerse yourself in that surreal, magical feeling again. The responsibilities won't go away; they will be waiting for you in a pile, right outside the door. But for those few special days every year, shut the door in the face of those responsibilities, and turn your attention to this one, because it's just as important. While real life issues roar and scrabble outside the door, pop that top button on your pants, relax, and eat a thick slice of pumpkin pie. Be completely amazed about how the carrots that were left out for the reindeer have teeth marks on them. Dress up to be whoever or whatever you want to be, and act out the part.
The realities outside the door can wait. They must wait, because this is important, too. You have the rest of the year to deal with them, but only a few days to make memories.