Lately, a question has been on my mind, something I think is simple until I start unpacking it. How do we make the holidays worth it? I don’t mean from the religious perspective or even a consumer perspective. I’m not really interested in having big arguments about the existence of god or the worship of money. What I am interested in talking about is how do we make the holidays worth it to us as individuals, to our well-being, to how we connect with each other?
The reason I ask whether the holidays are worth it or not is because of the stress they seem to put on people. It seems like so much of people’s angst gets channeled into this one time of year. There are all these questions about whether or not they should go home for Christmas, about whether or not they should have a holiday party, about how much they’re eating, about how tight everything is fitting, and about where they fit in.
It all seems rooted in the great holiday paradox that the time of year we’re supposed to connect the most with people is the time of year many people feel the most alone. That the time when we’re the most generous is the time when people feel they have the least. I wonder if this is because it’s the time of year we’re paying the most attention to our lives or if there’s something else that brings the baggage home.
For the past few years, I’ve created my own holiday tradition of trying to take the week between Christmas and New Years off. I started doing this because, by the time I got to the beginning of January I was exhausted, there just wasn’t enough time to be everywhere I was supposed to be and do everything I wanted to do.
Having some time off helps, in part, it takes me back to when I was a kid, and there was that glorious time after you had taken care of all your Christmas obligations and before you had to go back to school. I loved having time to play hockey, read, and get bored with whatever I had gotten for Christmas. Today taking time off works pretty well because its one of the few times I can leave the office for a week and essentially have the same giant piles of work waiting for me when I get back as when I left.
Don’t get me wrong there’s a lot I love about the holidays, it feels like the one part of year people are good at making time for one another. That it’s ok to break up the normal calendar and stay out late and that not having seen someone in a while is a good enough reason to get together.
Which makes me think about how we could take the best part of holidays, the seeing old friends, the giving of gifts, the letting people know what they mean to us without all the baggage and disappointment?
I wonder if it would help if the holidays weren’t such a big deal and what would happen if we found a way to dial everything back? Would we be better or worse at the things we like about the holidays? Would we be better at looking up old friends, would we better at giving people gifts or would we just stay in our everyday routines?
I’m pretty sure I’d be worse. I’m better with some disruptions breaking everything up, getting me out of the patterns that govern my life. Whether it’s the change of seasons, approaching holidays, or major life eruptions I’m someone who loves change but easily falls into patterns of seeing the same people and doing the same things without outside forces intervening.
So how do we make the holidays worthwhile and overcome the holiday paradox? I think it starts by trying to build our lives around the people and things that are important to us and then being present in those lives, which is easier said than done and can be a real challenge in the world we live in.
Maybe there are people out there who have figured it out and can truly savor this time of year. I’m not there yet; I’m somewhere in the middle. I think the goal for me is to become more like Scrooge at the end of A Christmas Carol when Dickens says “and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.”
I think this is a great lesson in how to appreciate what we have in life and how to share it with the people around us. Two things that seem like great steps on the path towards making sure the holidays and our lives are worthwhile.
Mark Hinds is the Founder and Publisher of Umami, his “At the Bar” columns are his excuse to spend time in great bars “conducting research” and writing about what’s happening with Umami and in life.