I don’t ‘come from money,’ so holidays have never been about receiving the latest technological innovations or a plethora of gifts. I don’t come from a large, close-knit family, so I don’t have stories about favorite, long-held holiday traditions. In college, I spent the holidays working, glad for a place to go. In grad school, I spent them at the movie theater with my best friend. And after moving away for work, I spent them alone, usually on the couch with a takeout dinner.
Aside from being sad and disappointed (maybe even more than I could bring myself to acknowledge at the time), I was irritated by what seemed to be a vortex of isolation, gluttony, and selfishness—all veiled by an illusion of togetherness and giving. And with practically every radio station filled with Christmas music, every store filled with people purchasing (arguably) meaningless merchandise, and every jewelry commercial filled with reminders of what one is missing when she is going through life alone, I even once found myself talking to a therapist about how to survive the holidays with an ounce of peace and dignity.
So over the years, I’ve practiced my own ‘traditions,’ such as creating non-holiday ‘holiday’ soundtracks, reading satirical books, and making truffles for the loved ones I do have in my life. These traditions obviously have far less to do with continuity and family legacy than with meeting my own emotional needs and doing my best to recognize that we are all protagonists in our own stories. Some people will experience the holiday season as a joyous respite after a difficult year; some will experience it as yet another joyous season among a history of many; and some will experience it with unimaginable physical and/or emotional pain brought on by the devastating loss of a loved one, an incomprehensible diagnosis, a financial misfortune, a hopeless sense of loneliness, or a demoralizing demand to ‘create a new normal.’
So bake your cookies, blast your holiday music, buy your gifts, show off your engagement ring, and send your family-photo-adorned holiday cards. But remember to be grateful and kind and empathetic. It is, after all, not the most wonderful time of the year for many.