I am very much hoping this finds you knee-deep in a relaxing weekend after a full work-week, or a full Thanksgiving meal. (Or that you are finding illumination on this fourth night of Hanukkah.)
A friend and I were discussing the upcoming holiday season and what our plans were, and after mentioning to her that holiday meals with my family triggered a goodly amount of stress for me, she responded with:
"At least you have a family. You still have both your parents. You should be thankful."
I wasn't sure how to respond at the time. She had lost a parent several years ago. Her favourite one, if you are supposed to admit things like that. I knew she would give anything to have both parents at her Christmas dinner, and so I simply nodded.
Later though, I wondered about those of us whose relationships with our parents are strained (at best.) What of those who had parents that had no concept of love and proper conduct and how to keep a child safe, and how not to damage their children? What about those who had a parent disappear, leaving nothing under the tree but abandonment issues?
The holidays can be a strange time. Families who may not see each other much throughout the year often come together en masse, and that can be joyful and heartwarming, or terrifyingly uncomfortable. And that's even before the conversations and questions begin. The movies would have us believe that all the discomfort is temporary - just long enough to have some good laughs at the Griswolds, or those nutty folks who left their kid home alone - but holiday reality sometimes feels more like "The Shining."
For those whose homes are not turning into a holiday encampment for familial guests, fortunately "family" is an inclusive term. We may have our own family unit - a partner, children - or we've developed a network of friends that are like family that we can celebrate with. Should you find yourself completely alone during the holidays for some reason, and not wanting to remain so, many cities host dinner events or even full travel packages for people who have no other holiday plans. And if you are wanting to lend a hand, of course there will be many places that would appreciate a volunteer at this time of year.
For the rest of us, who bite their tongue while pouring the wine, and who take the jabs while wearing the paper crown from the Christmas cracker, and who try to find a polite way to answer all the well-meaning-but-inappropriate questions, I want to share my little list of things I do to ensure I survive the holidays.
Holiday Helpers To Prevent You From Cowering in a Closet With a Bottle of Bailey's During Christmas Dinner or Drunkenly Serenading Yourself in a Bathtub (Alone) Like Bridget Jones.
1. Have a backup plan. Always. Find a friend who knows your situation and let them know that if they see you with your nose pressed up against their window like an old-timey English street urchin, they are to let you in and pass the turkey, and act like nothing happened.
1a. If you don't have friends or alternate family in the area, make like that millionaire show and have a phone-a-friend on standby. Someone who will talk you down from taking a piece of your aunt's hair and creating a poppet with it and some turkey bones, and then burning it in the bathtub.
2. Don't be too proud (or ashamed) to let someone in on your holiday concerns. Tell a good friend (see #1) or a good therapist. If you have a family member you trust, share with them. You may end up with an ally across the dinner table.
3. Do something nice for yourself immediately before and after the holidays. This is a crucial step - and I recommend booking your appointment now, because I can guarantee that plenty of folks are doing this. Get yourself a massage, take yourself out to a fancy dinner, buy yourself the holiday gift you want and are sure no one will buy you (with gift receipt, just in case,) or whatever else will make you feel really special. The "before" treat is to warm you up to feeling good about yourself and to give you a bit of holiday hope, and the "after" treat is the reward for not stabbing anyone with a candy cane. Yay!
4. Consider donating your time and/or money anyway. Even if you aren't alone for the holidays and looking for some meaning, find a cause you can contribute to. It is important all year long to be aware of who needs help in your community, but this time of year can be especially hard on folks who cannot afford to feed, house, or give gifts to their children, let alone provide them with any kind of holiday cheer. Local food banks accept donations, food, and manual help. Our little credit union has a "pajama tree" up, where you take one of the ornament cards with a child's gender and age listed on it, and return the card with a pair of appropriate pj's. There are so many places that are accepting help - finding somewhere to volunteer this time of year shouldn't be a problem at all.
5. Try to find something to laugh about - or some kind of wonder or joy. Make a snow angel. Watch the sky for Santa. Invent a new drink called "The Steaming Hot Mistletoe Kiss." You can think of something.
*picture via wiki commons