For a good chunk of my life I loathed the holidays. December comes with all kinds of social obligation that, for a long time, I didn’t understand and couldn’t afford. It also conjured all kinds of Norman Rockwell-like images that were so far removed from my own holiday experiences that I couldn’t appreciate what I did have. It was complex when I was a kid and it somehow got even worse in my early adulthood as I didn’t know how to navigate this complex time of the year.
Several years ago I worked through the holidays with my then-therapist, M. She encouraged me to “claim” what I loved about the holidays and leave the rest behind. That was a tough year. I had to really think deeply about what I wanted my holidays to look like. I had to decide what traditions I wanted to keep, what I needed to toss, and what I wanted to create from scratch. Being intentional was difficult after so many years of survival. I had no idea what I wanted, I just wanted it to not hurt so much. So I started with caused me great pain every year. I decided to throw out a bunch of Christmas stuff I had inherited from my mother – a ugly Christmas tree skirt that reminded me of my childhood, my childhood Christmas stocking that carried loads of unpleasant memories, a set of Christmas ornaments that my mother had given me, and a few other things. The part that was hardest about that was trusting that, by throwing out some of my history, I could create a new history that was more meaningful. I had long held onto material things that brought me pain because I somehow thought they also held the key to understanding what had happened to me. Letting go of those material goods was challenging because it meant I was accepting that there was no reasonable explanation for what happened. Letting go of that skirt, stocking, and ornaments meant I was embracing the unsettling truth that what happened was mean, irrational, and inexplicable.
Second I had to decide what I wanted to to keep. I love having a real Christmas tree. We often had a real one growing up and that tradition brought me great joy. To a horticulturist there is hardly anything more fun than having a socially acceptable excuse to bring a gorgeous, fragrant tree into the house for a whole month. Most years P and I still get a tree and I adore waking up the forest smell and the twinkling lights. I think that’s the only childhood tradition I actually kept!
Third I had to figure out what I wanted my holidays to look like and a route to get me there. I knit myself a new stocking which I love. It’s a two-tone green with a snowflake on it. I look forward to taking it out each year and hanging it on our door. Also, I love plates of beautiful cookies, thus I bake and bake and bake. P and I also pick out two new cookie cutters to add to our collection each year. We’re running out of Christmas themed cutters to buy so we also have a Christmas octopus, frog, and hammer. I love them all, even if I give P a hard time. I also spend an evening making paper snowflakes (LOVE) and often make handmade gifts specifically for those I love. P and I also use the holidays as a chance to spoil each other a little bit. We get each other gifts that we wouldn’t buy for ourselves and it adds a richness to the holidays that I cherish. In that same vein we also find ways to give back to our community. We now have traditions where we find ways to help others enjoy the holidays in big and small ways. This adds immensely to my enjoyment of the season.
This is my third year of my reclaimed holiday season and, I must admit, I love it more every year. I honestly and fully look forward to the holidays now. I love our little (and big) traditions and the new quirks we experiment with each year. While my holiday experience still isn’t Norman Rockwell-esque it’s an enjoyable, rewarding, and loving time of the year which is all I’ve really ever wanted anyway.