Today is the winter solstice.
Christmas is in four days.
My main goal right now is to not be a horrible person out loud.
Here in New Hampshire, the path of daylight is like a roller coaster ride that only goes down the big drops or up the big hills. We lose (or gain) up to fifteen minutes of daylight a week from solstice to solstice. When it’s decreasing, it begins to noticeably affect me around the middle of November.
At first it starts just as a vague discomfort, like wearing a cute pair of shoes I always forget will start to pinch after a couple hours. Then the symptoms increase, in no particular order. They include varying degrees of sleepiness, brain fog, insomnia, distractibility, irritability usually triggered by being interrupted (due to) trouble thinking linearly and organizing my thoughts/habits/tasks. I have lingering obsessive thought loops, frequently about why don’t we hibernate like other more evolved creatures.
Did you know that in addition to bears, skunks, bees, bats, and groundhogs also hibernate?
BUT I DIGRESS. Along with my happy lightbulbs, I benefit from St. John’s wort, gazillions of IU’s of Vitamin D, certain prescribed pharmaceuticals, and my personal hat trick of exercising at dusk. I also use a sunlight alarm clock which works on a dimmer, so it simulates sunrise at whatever time my little heart desires and tricks my grizzly bear brain into thinking it is a longer day than it is.
All these things keep me out of jail and able to pass among the more functional members of society.
Some years go better than others. It’s easier if there is snow early in the season. I think the refracted brightness helps somewhat. However, this year we are having a very mild winter. Very mild. As in, Dude, Like It’s A Surf’s Up Christmas.
But just like hitting a tough hill early on in a marathon on a hot day (actually since I’m not a runner I have no idea if this is an apt metaphor or not — add “Prone to talking out of my ass” to symptom list) there is another, much more sinister factor at play that complicates my desire to stay sane. And that is the fact that I am not inclined to be…..jolly….during the holidays, and this has been the case even when I did not live in northern climes. Early onset Grinch usually begins about 4pm Thanksgiving Day, when a tense knot develops at the base of my skull in anticipation of the impending cultural consumer imperative that’s about to snap to, snarling, shaking off the mellow lumbering pace it’d assumed since Labor Day, ready to go full Defcon Hyena crazy a couple hours later, banging its scraping, grasping beast claws on the doors of any retail establishment who dared to stay closed until Friday morning. It will not be satisfied until the post-Christmas Day sales.
I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say I strongly dislike this time of year. (emphasis due to my well-intentioned attempts not to use the H-word in our home).
I struggled for years to fight the good fight and embrace the holidays, in the spirit of making my own joy. It felt like the exercise a friend casually suggested I might try while I was attempting to learn to ski, that of smiling even when I didn’t feel like it. She said studies had shown smiling relaxes us in stressful situations. I did smile, but instead of letting go and leaning into the experience, appreciating the beautiful scenery and the fresh mountain air, taking a whatever stance toward the possibility of falling, or worse, getting mowed over by the many, many kamikaze skiers cutting across my ski tips, I instead found myself obsessively wanting to take off one of my skis, and impale her with it.
I’ve muscled through decades of Christmases hoping good feelings would follow right actions. Refusing to give in to negativity. Perhaps you have correctly guessed by now that I have truly awful memories of celebrating Christmas as a kid, which we didn’t do until I was 11, an experience into which I felt shoved after my father’s remarriage. It was a strictly choreographed event wedded to the script of my stepparent’s fantasy. I felt like an actor in someone else’s show. I’d be immediately demoted to understudy on the occasions my new Christian cousins were there, the lion’s share of gifts, attention, etc. going to them. Yet I was somehow required to believe in Santa, leaving cookies for him, talking about him, writing letters to him about stuff I wanted for Christmas…which was difficult for me since I already knew the idea of Santa was a fiction. And I never received anything on the list. We did all of the decorating, gingerbread house-making, the big meal on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, even though I had listened to my father for years sharply criticize any Jewish family in our neighborhood who even remotely sidled up to Christmas, or did anything as false as putting up blue lights outside or getting a “Hanukkah bush”.
Plus we had just returned from living in Israel for a year, which was the happiest experience of my young life. As you can imagine, Christmas is not the same in Israel. Ironically, it’s about the birth of Jesus. It was very piously and quietly observed there by Christians (and by Eastern Orthodox Christians in January). Living in a country that observed Jewish holidays nationally to this day remains one of the most empowering experiences I have ever had as a secular Jew.
So, after years and years of gearing up for the holidays as an adult, I feel like it’s still a response to an internal falseness, a forced loyalty to some way of being that just isn’t true for me. I feel like I’ve spent a lifetime trying to compensate for my history, to proactively recreate a better experience, to strive not be a victim, etc., etc., and I have often thought that the amount of effort it takes to do this somehow gives the trauma more power, not less. I did truly enjoy celebrating my husband’s version of Christmas, for a couple of years, and I did embrace his joy, but I have to say at this point I really think Christmas for me, is best categorized as “just not my thing”. Like what you would say after trying to work up the passion for kissing a girl if you like boys, or for kissing boys if you like girls, or for trying to kiss only one if you can’t choose….you get the picture.