If there is indeed an afterlife and if my life of sin should assign me eternal damnation as my ever after, I have a pretty good idea what my personal hot spot will look like.
The glow of Hell’s fires will actually be the soft twinkling of holiday lights. The background noise won’t be the tortured moans of my fellow damned souls, but rather nonstop (perfectly pitched) caroling favorites, and of course there will be the smell of freshly baked goods wafting through the air.
Almost sounds like heaven, but wait….all the while I shall exist in this perpetual external December paradise, whilst carrying the constant nagging internal twisted anxious knot that tells me I’m not happy enough.
Happy Holiday expectations….Where exactly did this stem from? Did I have such ideal childhood holidays and that somehow set this incredibly high bar? I can’t imagine it’s that.
Don’t get me wrong, they weren’t the stuff nightmares were made of or anything. They just weren’t a Norman Rockwell standard either.
There was love, gifts, and good china set around the dining room table (a table only sat at for a holiday meal) but you know, they were just kind of falling short in the special department, with their baby shrimp cocktails in a jar and fruit salad out of a can, how lackluster…
So if it isn’t the long ago ghost of perfect Christmas past haunting me, It must be my very own wild imagination fueled by books read and movies watched that scream of the all encompassing “holiday magic”, that really piles the pressure on.
Add a few kids into the mix and boy oh boy does that make you really feel like you have to make things emulate that sought after perfection.
We all know perfection is unattainable under the best of circumstances, but hey let’s sprinkle in some active addiction for good measure.
What you have now eventually leaves you with a highlight memory reel of holiday mishaps and let downs of some colossal proportions.
Let’s review…there was the time I was newly separated, estranged from family (by my own doing), in a sweltering state I hated, with three wide eyed youngin’s scratching up a storm with the chicken pox…What could make it worse you ask? If I had the chicken pox too and my current budget allowed only for Dollar Tree shopping.
Wait a second, if I remember correctly that Christmas actually turned out OK.
Oh I know, there was the one where I stayed up all night wrapping into the wee hours (amongst other things one should not be doing on Christmas Eve or any eve really) and upon running out of …eh…wrapping paper…yeah, yeah…that’s what I ran out for at 3am…wrapping paper! And when I stopped at 7/11 after picking up said wrapping paper, I managed to get my pocket book stolen out of my car. Boy did I wish I hadn’t left that “wrapping paper” in my bag…
Oh wait, maybe it was actually a Christmas blessing that I did, because now that I think about it, I went home and eventually to sleep and in the long run that wasn’t the worst Christmas either.
Ok, ok I have it …my pièce de résistance of shitty Christmas memories…oddly enough this one comes into play long after the financially struggling single mom days, and several years after the whispers of an actively addicted life had been silenced.
It was the year I did it all. I checked every box off the “How to have a perfect Christmas” list.
Step one-Cut down your own tree ✔️
Step two- Decorate early✔️
Step three- Take family into the city for a full day of holiday shopping, 5th Ave window peepin’, family pic in front of “the tree”! And add in any other hot coco sipping, ice skating watching, NYC winter wonderland goodness you can think to pack into a single day ✔️
Step four- The baking of holiday cookies, not only decorated as sweet as they taste, but packaged up in Christmas cuteness and hand delivered to friends and neighbors alike (be sure to have you and your elf (youngest daughter) wear appropriate holiday attire, consisting of Santa hats and ugly sweaters for full effect ✔️
Step 5- Dress everyone in their Christmas best and not just attend Christmas Eve candlelight services but be the family who stands up in front and lights the advent candles, recites the scripture, and exudes peace, love, & joy ✔️
Step 6- After the (non alcoholic) egg nog has been drunk, and holiday shows watched, and the traditional Xmas Eve present opened by each…tuck those kiddies into bed and let the sugar plums dance in their head….almost got to ✔️ that off …so damn close…until Mama’s melt down woke up their sleepy little heads.
This was also the year I lost my grandmother. The woman who raised me. Or more accurately saved me. The woman who grounded me, and who without I felt lost.
I recall now how I had grandly announced as the season began “I will not be sad this first Christmas without my Grandmother, I’ll celebrate the way she would have wanted me to”.
I checked those boxes off at warp speed like they were steps on a scavenger hunt and I was racing to the finish-line. I don’t think I stayed still long enough in a single moment to have been present in it. They are blurred memories at best speeding toward an epic crash.
The crash…that’s a memory that is sharply in focus. I can’t tell you what my children’s faces looked like that day in the city, try as I might, but I can see the disappointment and confusion when they awoke from sweet slumber to the sounds of shrieking and crashes, as I hurled whatever was nearby at the wall.
Embarrassing….yes, I know. It’s this thing that happens to me though. When I don’t honor whatever the feeling is I’m feeling, be it sadness or fear, or if I dig my heels into expectations of how things “should” look or be….things tend to come out sideways…usually as anger. Earth shaking, unreasonable, uncontrollable anger.
Side note > In my life this can apply to anytime of year, though as a tribute to this fa la la la time of year, I’m focusing on Holiday sadness and expectations.
I’d like to suggest that this amazing sense of self awareness I clearly have suggests that I have now nipped that little personality problem in the bud. Ehh well, “progress not perfection” is the phrase that comes to mind.
And so progress it is, but some days you forget. Some days you walk through the hap happiest season of all with a smile on your face while inside all you want to do is sit at a table reserved for holiday meals and eat tiny shrimps drowning in a glass jar of cocktail sauce and you don’t want to let yourself feel how much you’re missing the people with whom you shared those sweet ( what did you call them? -lackluster) holidays long gone by.
So maybe one December weekend you’re trying to make it all look perfect and then the crockpot overcooks the beef stew meat and undercooks the vegetables. And maybe the cookies you were baking fall flat. And maybe you start to feel mad at someone for things you already forgave them for, and everything feels wrong and you want to explode…but then you remember ….this isn’t some Holiday Hell you’ve been banished to and you’re the only one telling yourself how you’re “supposed” to feel.
On that note, it’s ok to call a friend and have a good cry, a heartfelt “I’m sorry” can work wonders, piles of mushy flat cookies are delicious, pizza is always an acceptable solution for dinner, and no dog ever complained about tough meat when being served beef stew.
And maybe the difference between heaven and hell is nothing more than your very own perspective ….And I’m just gonna be over here doing my best to remember that 😉
Wishing y’all peace, love, & the ability to be kind to yourself this holiday season ❤️