Where is it written that the holidays have to make you miserable?
Saccharine ads, irradiant malls and the Sears winter catalogue make a point to remind you that merriment is “in the air”, but that merriment never seems to take hold the way we’re told it should. Empty chequing accounts, hastily-scraped price tags and trampled mallgoers: We really overthink the holidays.
We don’t know what to get. We don’t know what they’ll like, what they need, or how much it’ll cost us to retain one another’s fancy for another year. What gift says “I tried my best” better than the millions of possible others, while not leaving you scrounging between sofa cushions for December’s rent?
Come January, you shouldn’t have to choose between a respectable dinner and a $2.99 box of mac n’ cheese just because the high deities of Commerce and Unreasonable Expectation made you spring for the gentleman’s napkin rings.
So, in a spirit more befitting this supposedly joyful time of year, here’s a suggestion about how best to tackle that mountain of holiday responsibilities this time around: Don’t.
Or at the very least, shave that mountain down to a dignified molehill by switching off the tape-loop of external pressure and refocusing your perspective.
Remember the worst holiday experience you’ve ever had. When you piece it together, you’ll most often find that it wasn’t the gifts or the food that made it a trainwreck. When investigators scoured the scene for clues as to what went wrong, it wasn’t the ill-fitting cardigan or dry turkey that got tossed into the evidence bag.
No, when we unspool those memories, it’s far more likely to be the family tension, the horrid commute or insurmountable personal drama that kicked the bucket for us. Janet left you, or you left Janet, or Janet left you for your dad and now you have to watch them play footsies at the big family dinner. Point is, it wasn’t that misjudged copy of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code that bummed you out. It just didn’t help, that’s all.
And that’s if you even have a “worst” holiday memory. You might have a categorical best (likely from some time in your childhood, a period in which a PS1 was all it took to complete you), but short of some pretty extreme circumstances I’d venture a guess that almost half of us don’t have anything under that label in the filing cabinet.
What’s the answer then?
Well, unless you’ve elected to host this iteration of your loved ones’ preferred festivities (in which case, God help you), maybe the best thing to do is to acknowledge and internalize that your responsibilities here are limited at best.
As with every other walk of life, allowing other people to dictate how you should feel or what’s expected of you when the snow rolls in and the lights go up is a fast-track to misery. That goes double when the “people” in question are multimillion-dollar entities with a vested interest in making you feel inadequate for not buying that thing they make that you just need to have, trust them.
Are you naturally merry? Then be deck the halls. Are you more reserved? Don’t practice smiling for days before lunch at Uncle Tim’s. Do you have money to burn, of which you (crucially) want to burn? Buy a BMW for your least favourite nephew. Is money burning you lately? Grab a card from the nearest drug store and write a heartfelt message. If the holidays are really about spending time with and cherishing those closest to you, then your presence should be enough. If you’re worried your peers will scoff at you for your paltry gift… well, you’ve just learned something very disconcerting about your apparent friends, and are now free to re-evaluate the space you’ve given them in your life.
Everyone else can be who they wish for the holidays, but this year, you’re doing you.
Thanks for the napkin rings though, Aunt Heather. You always kill it.