The Christmas season is filled with expectation and obligation. Growing up, all I wanted was for my family to be like those in commercials, the ones where the whole family smiles as they happily decorate their perfect tree. I would put on Bing Crosby’s Christmas album and gather all four of us together to put together our large plastic tree. My mom, frustrated with how the tree been put away the year before, would lug it out of the attic threatening us all that next year Christmas was definitely cancelled. My dad, following my mom’s cues, would pull out the cardboard drawer set filled with our collection of ornaments. Like magic, everything arrived in our formal living room – a place saved for mismatched and abandoned furniture like a sofa with a horrible splatter painted upholstery and until I had a boyfriend and we weren’t allowed upstairs, so we hung out in this space. My parents would angrily get the tree put together and plugged in and my brother and I would begin to hang ornaments. We’d ask questions and bicker about which ornaments were whose. My parents’ patience would begin to wane and eventually they would disappear. My brother would begin to put his Christmas houses and village together and disappear after this simple task was completed. Eventually I would be the only one putting ornaments up and attempting to stay in an upbeat optimistic mood. Later, I’d gather everyone together around the TV in the regular living room insist we watch Mickey’s Christmas Carol – a 20 minute rendition of the Christmas Carol that I absolutely loved. Eventually over the years this experience became more and more tense and I would spend the majority of it doing it all myself, a reminder that we were not the picture perfect commercial.
This annual Christmas traditions would begin the season which would eventually disintegrate into opening obscure gifts that didn’t seem meant for me and ending with frustration between all of us. When I went away to college, the series continued like a broken record on repeat, minus me helping put things on the tree. I would return home to a place that no longer felt like home. I felt out of place, out of space, out of my own skin. I am unsure if me being out of place was caused by spending 9 months in a dorm room or because that’s what happens when you are transitioning into adulthood.
I spent Christmas in my parents’ home, then in my wife’s family’s home, their Christmas was oddly similar. The desire to create the perfection that capitalism serves us is suffocating. The amount of perfect gifts that had to be purchased for nephews who appreciated for approximately a minute always felt so fruitless. Navigating a different family’s traditions, expectations, and obligations while working towards the commercial image was a significant struggle. I have since stopped watching television and commercials.
My first Christmas after my wife and I separated was spent sifting through the past with a supportive friend. I frustratingly pulled every box from the corners, saying angrily in my head that Christmas was definitely cancelled, as my mom had said for years. I sat in the basement going through every photograph, every book, every cd. I sobbed thinking of the past, of the future. The house itself looked nothing like Christmas, nothing that felt like Christmas, no love, no hope, no happiness. It was empty except for our stuff.
I have been invited to my colleagues’ homes, their families’ celebrations, none of those seemed right.. Nowadays, I decline politely. Community and love filled experiences are important to me, but sitting in the corner of someone else’s family and community table always feels strange to me.
Changing my understanding of what Christmas should be has been work. Work I never expected to need to do. Returning home never felt like an answer either, not because it’s not filled with love, but because the memories feel too raw, too close to enter back into that space during this time. How can I overcome the expectations and disappointment that have filled a time period?
A day that most people spend with their entire families and loved ones is a day, I spend alone. I do not look for pity or sympathy when I write those words. It may be my most favorite day of the year now. I plan for the joy, the love, the care I so deserve that day – and I give it to myself. I do everything in that day that I say I’ll do on others – I eat delicious food made with care and love by me; I go for a long walk outside breathing in the cold, brisk air; I read books that I intended to read or that aren’t work related; I don’t open up anything connected to work at all; I make art that brings me joy. It’s a day for me, by me. It is perfect.