What is it about growing up that makes the holidays seem so much less fun? Or is it just that everything is so commercialized? I really have no idea, but this year I can’t seem to find my holiday cheer anywhere. I’m hoping it didn’t get stuck in my pocket and go through the wash because that’s just bad business.
In any case, I really feel like I need to write some of this out, so if you’re already thinking this is something you’re going to hate because it’s personal & might involve emotions, there’s probably no need to read on after the jump, but thank you for stopping by anyway. I’ll be back with something literary next week.
Christmas traditions in my family have always gone something like this: On Christmas Eve, we all went to church together before piling into the mini-van and driving to the farm where my mom grew up. While the adults all chatted, we kids would find a place to play Chinese Checkers or Uno. Then we’d be summoned back to the living room where we’d open gifts from my grandparents. Christmas was always my Gram’s thing. She had a massive collection of “Santy Clauses” and it didn’t matter who you were, you were welcome at her house on Christmas Eve. And don’t you dare think you were just coming for the company. She had presents for you too. It didn’t matter if she’d never met you before. When it got late, we’d load up our gifts (appreciative, if not always impressed in later years) and we’d head home. We’d get up obnoxiously early on Christmas morning (around 3 a.m., usually), open gifts, eat breakfast, and pass out around 8:30 again. Then we’d get up later and spend the day with my dad’s family.
The thing is, the older I get, the more Christmas seems to be missing something. This isn’t necessarily new because there’s always been a sense of loss around Christmastime in my family. My father’s father died the year before I was born, but I learned the story at a young age and it’s so etched into my mind that I can’t help but to think about it too. My grandfather died unexpectedly exactly a week before Christmas in 1981. You don’t typically forget your dad telling you about the time he had to unwrap all of his father’s Christmas gifts and take them back, and I’m sure that’s not something my dad forgets either. To make matters even worse, he was buried on December 23, which was not only two days before Christmas, but also his wife’s — my grandma’s — birthday. So when it gets to be about this time of year, that memory is always lurking around. I always think about how they must have felt, first hearing that he’d died, then having to unwrap everything and take it back. And then having to bury your husband on your birthday….
I never promised not to be kind of a Debbie Downer in this post. Sorry.
Anyway, as the years have gone on, Christmas has lost something for me. I was hanging on to it right up until the point when my Christmas-obsessed grandmother (my mom’s mother) died in 2006. After that, I’m not sure what happened. For reasons I’d rather not get into, my relationship with my closest cousin on that side was completely obliterated, and when she started bringing her new boyfriend (later her fiance, now her husband) to Christmas Eve at the farm, it was actually something I started to dread attending. Between that and the fact that my Gram wasn’t there anymore, I used to sit down and cry on Christmas Eve, anxious over how badly I did NOT want to go. I’ve gotten over that, thankfully, and it bothers me a little bit less to be in the house now (I couldn’t even go there after my Gram died. I’d stay outside). My relationship with one of my other cousins had always been lukewarm at very best, and it’s completely non-existent now. We just don’t like each other. That leaves me with one cousin on my mother’s side whose company I enjoy. There’s really nothing to get excited about on Christmas Eve anymore. This year, for example, we can’t even all agree upon a church to attend since we’ve all managed to branch off into different denominations. Luckily, going to church alone doesn’t bother me.
The family gathering on my dad’s side has dwindled too. I have a lot of cousins (my dad is one of six kids), but only about half of them are around. Some have other obligations with spouses’ families and some can’t make it home because of work. I guess that’s to be expected as you get older, but it still takes it out of me a bit.
Then there’s the issue of friends. The vast majority of mine are all so far away. When I lived in Virginia, my friends and I would celebrate Christmas together before we all left for the holidays. My friends in college did that too. There would be a small inexpensive gift exchange, but it was more about being together. But alas, no gatherings with friends.
I could deal with all of that, perhaps, if it weren’t for this: my absolute favorite part of the holidays is buying gifts. I love doing it. I know the holidays aren’t about money or presents, but giving makes me feel good and it makes me feel excited about Christmas when I have something that I can’t wait to give someone. They need not be extravagant. When we were little, my sister’s glass “Baby’s First Christmas” ornament got shattered. Every year she brought up how she wished she had one when we decorated the tree (which, by the way, I couldn’t do this year because I had the flu). Last year I got this genius idea and I went online and searched all over the damn place. It was a collector’s ornament, but I could only find ONE on the entire Internet. It was just like the one that broke and I couldn’t wait to give it to her.
This year, shopping was no fun because I was constantly looking nervously at the total, hoping it wasn’t going to tip my bank account in the wrong direction. I couldn’t buy people the things I wanted to give to them because I don’t have the money. And yeah, I’m angry about not having a job. Still. Everyone tells me not to worry about it because they don’t need or want anything, but that makes me feel worse. Even though I’d moved away, I’d always sent something to two of my friends in Virginia, as well as to a childhood friend who lives in Indiana. This year I had to send them messages explaining that I just wasn’t going to be able to do it. I think that’s when my Christmas spirit went MIA. I just can’t seem to find the excitement in anything this year. I will say, however, that when I went to church on Saturday night, I never wanted to leave. It felt like Christmas in the church and it was as calm as I’d felt in days.
If it sounds like I’m whining, I probably am. I have a roof over my head and as far as I know I’m still healthy enough. There are so many people who have it worse than I do, but that’s something else. Tonight I caught wind of a former student whose mother has an inoperable brain tumor and a collection is being taken up for the family to help offset the costs. That made me cry not only because I’m being stupid, but also because I feel horrible that I can’t do much to help. I’m just frustrated to the point where I’ve clammed up. I’ve crawled up into my mind and I’m just hanging out there. I keep telling myself to watch Christmas Vacation (my favorite movie) and wrap the presents I bought. I’ve always had it done by this point. But I don’t. I just go in my room and shut the door, get in bed, and read. I keep to myself. Even though I might feel lonely and isolated and like Dobby must be intercepting my mail right now, I want to be a human being again one of these days soon. I’m getting on my own nerves. To be clear, I don’t want sympathy or pity. I just wanted to get this out. I know I have to snap out of it eventually. I just hope it happens before Christmas.