Focus on the present this holiday season
A few years back, I took myself to Starbucks on Christmas Eve and hammered out a blog post on the things I dislike about Christmas. It's not at all lost on me that I find myself writing at (the same) Starbucks once again — but this time, I am happy to report that my feelings toward the holiday have changed.
I revisited that post as I prepared to write today, and I have to admit that melodramatic early-20s me did have some good thoughts behind her post — in fact, the shift in attitude that I've experienced in the past few years is almost exactly what I longed for in my rant.
My feelings toward the holiday season, that ever-expanding period between Halloween and my birthday (two weeks after Christmas, but who's counting?), haven't changed much — in fact, they've always been wholly positive, warm, and full of the joy and eggnog-soaked spirit all the greats warbled about. My husband and I decorated our house in early November, and I've had my ugly Christmas sweaters and sweatshirts in heavy rotation for weeks now. I've always been this way, and I'm just grateful the people around me have embraced my festive ways as another part of what makes me the woman I am.
Every year until this past one, though, the moment Dec. 24 came around, my mood changed. Instead of warm fuzzies, I'd go full Grinch. Last year, I made a conscious effort to keep my mood in check, though, and as we barrel toward this Christmas Eve, I'm looking forward to putting what I tried last year into practice again.
Christmas Eve and Day are built on nothing but expectation. As children, it's for something tangible — I remember my cousin used to look up the shipping weights of toys from the old Sears Holiday Wish Books, so she could know what she was getting before ripping into the paper. I never tried that myself, but I was a pro gift-shaker, and I remember the joy that accompanied the gentle shifting sound of my American Girl doll, circa 1996.
The fun of giving gifts hasn't been lost on me as I've gotten older, and I'm often really proud of the things my husband and I plan for our friends and family. I still love that part of Christmas, and I'm always grateful that we have the means to enjoy the season in that way. It's the quieter parts of the day, when all the gifts have been exchanged and the celebration dies down, that have found adult-me a little more melancholy.
I can't deny that I scrolled through Instagram just before writing this column — I am a millennial, after all — but I'm not about to blame Instagram and the rest of social media for the unpleasant mood that has settled over too many holidays. Instead of being happy with my own celebrations and traditions, I'd spend the afternoon mindlessly scrolling, comparing my day to my acquaintances'. If I didn't have that picture-perfect moment to entice my own slew of likes and comments, I'd find myself disappointed, even though I'd just spent the previous weeks happy and enjoying everything the season had to offer.
It's a lethal combination this time of year, the hours after something you've anticipated for weeks, mixed with the inherent need to compare our lives to everyone we know. Most of the time, it's pretty harmless — maybe I don't love seeing your tropical vacation pictures while I'm still shoveling snow (in April) — but it all balances itself out when I score a sweet front row spot at yet another concert. Christmas, though, is often a year's worth of photos and exclamation points in one day.
I'm not suggesting people stop sharing what makes them happy; even when it leaves me a little upset, I'd rather see my friends enjoying something than not. Instead, I hope the mental shift I've forced upon myself will maybe help you out if you also find yourself in a Christmas funk. It's almost a continuation of the shift from childhood holiday wishes to more realistic adult goals.
Instead of working myself up over what's going on just out of my control this season, I'm going to take a step back and take in the things that are going on around me. If it's not picture perfect, so be it — and in that imperfection, I'm sure I'll find a moment that's unique and memorable and worthy of, at the very least, a Throwback Thursday post in a few months.
Meredith Wilcox is a freelance writer and photographer who happily lives in the city of Erie with her husband. Find her at firstname.lastname@example.org and at meredithwilcox.com