“It’s hard to believe it’s one week till Christmas,” my friend told me over text. “What an odd year. It doesn’t feel Christmassy to me at all.”
It doesn’t have to feel Christmassy.” I replied. “There are no rules.”
“No, that’s true. But it has always made me happy before,” he wrote.
“We’re doing the best to make our Christmas feel festive,” I replied. “I bought some Prosecco. We ordered Christmas Eve dinner from our favourite restaurant, the House on Parliament. For Christmas Day, we also ordered a fruit flan from Danielle et Danielle and we will either pick up some lasagna from the butchers or I’ll make an extra-cheesy baked ziti on Christmas Day.”
He responded, “It is hard to feel festive this year. You know how much I love Christmas but I’m having a hard time getting into it.”
Let me tell you a little about my friend. He loves Christmas. Wait a minute, I can’t stress this enough. Christmas is his everything holiday. I have never seen a man put up so many elaborate decorations at his home. I felt like I was in a Christmas themed room at a high-end shopping store. And Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without the feast, the wines, the food… you get it.
The other side of this is how much this time means to him for his reasons of family, connection, giving, and love. For me, this is an interesting challenge: dealing with tradition and habits and people’s assumptions and presumptions about them.
If you depend on external circumstances for your happiness you’re going to have a very difficult time in life.
To be clear, I’m talking about happiness relating to the absence or presence of material things or events, not an emotional connection with people.
Understand that I’m not discounting the positive emotional states that arise during the holidays. I am suggesting that we take a deep, hard look at the tradition of the holidays, how that enforces and boxes many people into expecting a set of events to happen (like a habit) that when they don’t only lead to disappointment.
My experience of Christmas has changed over the years.
As a kid, duh, of course, I loved Christmas. I was brought up Catholic so there was also a religious element. When I began to question my faith around 16 or 17 and accepting myself as a gay man, not only couldn’t I see myself represented or accepted, I realized I could no longer believe in something that I had been taught to believe — as if being taught it from childhood were the reason for its unquestionable truth. Coming to terms with my sexuality and being a teenager meant rebellion, so I shunned all traditional holidays and wanted nothing to do with what I saw as a mindless acquiescence of traditional values.
Over the years I have had to deal with the challenge of other people’s needs around the holidays. My mother, in many ways, is similar to Ron in the emotional memories that come up during the holidays. Ron experiences mostly joy, whereas my mother’s experience is a mixed bag of childhood memories and longing for the time when my sister and I were still little and still enamoured with that overwhelm of excitement at Christmas, and the resulting joy that would bring her.
But it’s an interesting intellectual as well as an emotional challenge right now, trying to imagine how to feel or experience joy in another way, at a time when an event/tradition called “Christmas” — nay, “The Holidays” for the politically correct — that has been shut down because of a pandemic.
Christiaan and I talked at length about what should we do. The top doctors in Canada and Ontario were advising in early December to stay home, not to travel, and not to visit. In Ontario, we have seen the number of infections rise to three times the level that we saw in April, at what we thought was the height of the pandemic during the lockdown. Only now do we realize that was the first of at least two waves. I hope the people of Ontario remember the ineptitude of our Provincial leader who should be held accountable for gross mismanagement and patently bad decisions about how, when, and where to go into lockdown during this second wave.
What conditions can be met that will allow you to “revel” in those Christmassy holiday feelings that are based on historical significance?
- Why is Christmas so important to you?
- What are the three to five dominant emotions that you experience over the holiday? For bonus points, consider up to five positive and five negative emotions — because what are the holidays without drama?
- For each of those emotions, what ingredients have to come together to cook that recipe for you to experience each emotion?
These are truly “Xmas-tential questions!”
If I can offer some parting advice: the best gift you can give anyone this holiday is health and freedom from catching COVID-19. Call, Zoom, Skype… do it as much as you need to. Mail or drop off gifts, prepared meals, desserts, but don’t go into someone else’s home. This is ONLY one Christmas. We know that with all the vaccines already being delivered, and with more on the way, COVID-19 should be under control by late September 2021 — at least in Canada.
While I believe that we shouldn’t go back to the old normal, now is the time to consider and assess what has come before. What do you want to change, what needs to change, and how we can love and care for ourselves and others in this challenging time without infecting anyone else?
Now, more than ever, respect for other’s health and longevity is as important, if not more important, than your needs first.
Originally published at https://darrenstehle.com on December 19, 2020.