Merriment doesn’t happen on cue because the calendar says so.
And yet, we humans are fond of traditions that dictate it should, whatever our culture or religion.
Holidays are a time for gathering, for family, and for community. At all levels and with many if not all the groups we belong to — from family to friends via workplace — we celebrate them. Because any occasion to take stock of our shared humanness and rejoice at being alive is a good and generally tasty one.
All holidays are about food, about nurture, about bonds.
We’re pleasure-seeking creatures who find comfort in the familiar so rare are those of us who choose not to observe holidays. But there are many of us who do not observe them for reasons that have little to do with them but everything to do with other people or the lack thereof.
People aren’t a measure of care, not in the age of social media when our interactions are getting increasingly transactional.
Even when you are part of a family and of a couple, you may not fit in anywhere during the holiday season, turning it into the darkest, most dreaded time of year.
I was reminded of this a few hours ago when I wondered aloud whether there was one country in the EU that didn’t celebrate Christmas.
And as far as I can tell, there isn’t, which is a pity as this means there’s nowhere I can run off to and hide for the duration. Instead, I must stay put and endure but where?
The issue is more complex than it seems: I have been living out of a suitcase in transit between the US and the EU for the last 11 months now. The holiday season is coming around and my inclusion is not implied anywhere, which is discombobulating to the extreme.
On paper, my home is in WA but I’ve spent 2019 between France, Portugal, and the Netherlands so I could help my parents navigate the reality of Stage IV cancer.
Because I was away from Europe for six years and lived all my adult life in countries other than where my family is, the holiday season has long been a tricky time, so tricky that I spent several holiday seasons running tours abroad for people with nowhere to go.
Although you don’t fit with your loved ones, you might belong with strangers although the seasonal heartache never lessened, no matter how wonderful my passengers or picturesque the destination.
If there’s a time of year that magnifies alienation, loneliness, and unbalanced relationships, it’s the holiday season.
Finding out that others neither wish for nor require your presence is despite how close you thought you were can call into question your perception of the love that binds you to them. While you may be secure in how you feel toward them, it’s an infelicitous time to find out how they feel toward you.
Perhaps what you took for love was in fact habit, or convenience, or duty.
When they don’t take you into account at this time of year, you have to ask yourself why and try to figure out what it means, lest you should continue to assume people care when they clearly don’t.
At this point and regardless of the conclusions you might reach, what matters most is that you still care; love is not a transaction.
Whether it can ever be prone to oversights of such magnitude, I do not know but perhaps let’s allow for it? After all, isn’t the season about counting one’s blessings and sharing them? At least, that’s my secular understanding of it and the reason why I used to cherish it.
My first marriage came to an end after the Christmas tree flew across the room.
In a twist of fate, my American life also started one Christmas Day and I’m now contemplating its dissolution from the other side of the Atlantic, aghast. It is frankly terrifying to look back on how much you can want something, how much you can sacrifice for it, and how abysmally you can fail, to the point of almost losing your life in the process.
It is so terrifying, so shocking even that I haven’t yet been able to figure out whether I’m safe now or not yet. Most days, I have great difficulty projecting myself beyond the next hour, the next day, the next week on an emotional level.
I do not see December at all. It is pitch black, all the stars have gone dark, love has no echo.
This silence weighs a ton, it is the force field that surrounds you, it is the ball and chain that grows heavier as time passes until it disintegrates come mid-January if it hasn’t annihilated you first.
Still, every year you hope it’ll change; every year you hope for a little magic.
As kids, the holiday season was a time for awe.
Somehow, our inner kid comes out to play during the last two months of the year. Nostalgia and hope for happier times makes us vulnerable when we must once again accept this year will be like all the ones that came before.
We should rename December the “month of acceptance”, 31 days dedicated to taking stock of where we’re at in life and where we’d like to go, assuming we even have a destination in mind.
I started the year with one (Lisbon, Portugal) but I am ending it with quite another (Amsterdam, Netherlands) and the knowledge that anything could still change at any time. Because I’ve lived like this for almost a year now, I’m exhausted; geographical instability and uncertainty are causing constant anxiety.
Unsurprisingly, I’ve wanted to run away from the new life I’ve been building word by word many times. And it keeps happening because I desperately need a break, I need to regroup, and I need relief, as do literally all of us at this time of year.
We’re all in the same spot, we all need our creature comforts, we all need to bask in the love that gives our life meaning.
So we might remember why we keep pushing forward.
Anticipation is catnip to most human brains.
During the holiday season, it is pleasure you can count on, reliable human warmth that takes on the smiles of all those you love and the form of the hugs and laughter you share when you are together.
By default, this is what we all start looking forward to as the days get shorter — or longer, depending on what hemisphere we’re in — conditioned to do so by tradition which is so omnipresent it is inescapable.
Hope is that short moment of grace when you believe with all your heart this is the year you will make new memories and forever rewrite the meaning the holiday season holds for you.
Alas, the loneliness you told yourself was temporary so you could deal with it never quite dissipated, even when people came into your life. This is as painful as nonsensical, a true paradox of modern existence whereby the more connected we become, the less able to articulate love we are.
Can love ever forget to take you into account during the holiday season, I do not know but perhaps let’s allow for it?
When under duress, we all tell ourselves the stories we need to hear to keep going and the holiday season is no exception. Allow yourself and those you love the kindness of doubt, the one gift that can help you navigate the last month of the year.
Candor is all I’ve got to offer you because that was all I was able to scavenge for myself in the hours it has taken me to think this through and articulate it. I do not know where I’m going from here nor do I expect clarity any time soon.
Love is as love does.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.