My dad and brother-in-law work with unhoused people, and they tell me those precious souls don’t like the holidays. This season highlights all the ways their lives are not the fantasy.
Though I am not unhoused, I have finally realized that the holidays are hard for me, too. I am a self-professed lover of Christmas. I have a loving, intact nuclear family and strong connections to extended family on both sides. We have some wonderful traditions, and I’m already listening to Christmas music. But I don’t have the fantasy.
The Complete Holiday Fantasy Package might include:
- No money stress or, in fact, any stress at all
- Everyone having the days off work
- Giving the perfect surprise gifts for loved ones
- Happy, grateful children in the house
- Softly falling snow
- A large, clean, festively decorated house
- Pure love between all participants at holiday celebrations—no tension, unresolved conflict, or fissures
- Delicious, beautiful food that flies out of the kitchen without complication
- Giving to underprivileged people
- A Christmas letter that shares progress, good news, and warm, fuzzy vibes
- No unkindness, selfishness, or unregulated emotion of any kind
- No resentment over unmet expectations
- No grief and loss
Ha! Though my brain knows better, I find my imagination and emotions buying into this package. The holidays become a time to compare my life to the fantasy.
And of course, the holidays are also a time of great grief for many people. Parents who have lost children, children who have lost parents. People who have lost spouses and friends, people grieving lost jobs, the onset of illness or disability, the reality of loneliness, coming to terms with the full catastrophe of life.
In the last few years, I’ve found that celebrating Winter Solstice is one balm for the ills of capitalism and perfectionism. Paying attention to the waning light and adjusting my routines accordingly. Looking forward to the light coming back and finding ways to celebrate that in community. In other words, respecting the rhythms of life and acknowledging my limits as a human being. And, in fact, marveling at and accepting the impermanence of everything, including what’s hard about this season.
As we head toward Thanksgiving, Solstice, Christmas, Hannukah, New Years, as we head into the darkest nights of the year, may we not be oppressed by the fantasy. May we find, as we have so many other seasons of the year, little moments of silence, connection, or creativity hiding out in the corners of our lives. May we extend great love toward ourselves and our myriad imperfections. And may we, like the proverbial shepherds doing their lonely, difficult jobs in the fields, look up one night and be overcome by wonder. We are still here. The cosmos are still here. What a miracle.
P.S. By the way, this business of reconciling fantasy with reality is a life skill. My friend who mentors students in a practicum will often ask in her debriefing with them, “What was your fantasy about how this would go?” We might imagine asking the same thing in our marriages or parenting or when we are disappointed by our “dream job.” I think of Jack Kornfield reminding us: The unawakened mind makes war against what is.