The holidays can conjure big emotions from people, from overjoyed to overburdened. Whether it’s the money grab for the perfect gift or the constant reminder of having to be in a jovial spirit, this time of year can wear a person out. We all have our personal feelings about this time of year, but do we get caught up in them or do we try to see this time of year through the eyes of others?
My family Christmas history
Yes, we were a poor family but we knew families that were worse off than we were. I am not here to compare how bad our Christmas was to theirs, only share what we had. My mother did everything she could to try to give us what we wanted for Christmas. She scrimped and saved when no one else knew and always stayed in a positive mood, as much as a mother of two kids with a distant father could. Dad, however, appeared to hate the holiday. You always knew it was getting close to Christmas because he started complaining about money and watching the electric bill like a hawk.
“The kids have enough, damned stuff,” was a statement I often overheard as October closed out to November. By Thanksgiving, my sister and I were a bundle of energy pushing to get the Christmas tree put up. Mom would try to hold us out till at least December 1st, but dad went on bitching about money. As a kid, he had to put our fake tree up and do most of the lights. He had to have them just right. The whole while complaining about how he had to put it up and didn’t understand the need.
Once the tree was up and lit, the battle for how long it could be lit and how much of his harassing us about how much it will cost to light the tree started. Every sentence about Christmas was an obscenity every two words. Mom and us had to strategically plan to plug in the tree whenever he wasn’t home and listen for him pulling in to unplug it. Lest we forget, you could hear the deep exhalation as he walked in the house. Muttering under his breath about the “fucking light bill!” As he would go out to the woodshed to split wood his voice would get louder. From dinner to bedtime, he would suffer the lights. The minute we were in bed, off they would go. As the days ticked by to Christmas Eve, his complaining became worse and telling us we had to take the tree down the day after Christmas began.
These few shared memories, being poor, and the general atmosphere around the holidays only pushed me further away from enjoyment. By my late teens and early 20s, I started to become a Grinch – similar to my father. I dont complain about the cost of lights or how long a tree stays up, in fact I became more of not liking the holiday completely. As I started working in retail, I learned quickly how bad people are this time of year. It only increased my dislike.
As I aged and became more brooding and disillusioned, my dislike for Christmas grew. No one’s feelings or intentions could sway my feelings. Mostly, it made them much stronger. I dreaded its approach as the calendar flipped through the months and was ecstatic as it was in the rear view of the year.
Little did I know that it was me that could fix this and much easier than I expected.
A guiding star
I never would have thought that any feelings I have about this holiday would change, that is until I met Karl.
Almost three years ago, I met a guy who LOVES all things Christmas. He puts up multiple trees each year, plays Christmas music starting on November 1st, and truly believes in the ideal of Santa Claus. I could not understand his love of this festive family feud holiday. We has similar memories of how Christmas affected our families. Correlations to how our fathers acted and more. Why, with all of this, did he still hold on to this holiday so strongly. Was it the childlike wonder that created a snow covered version of how the rest of the year looked and made it seem brighter? Was it a departure from all of the suffering he had to endure, growing up? Or was it some type of displacement? I was baffled.
For two years I struggled to accept his love of this holiday season and tried not to analyze why he couldn’t see it from the same perspective I did. After all, we had similar experiences and mine left me jaded and bitter. Was there something wrong with me or was there something unhealthy about his attachment? That all changed this year. How you may ask? Let me continue, because Karl would become my guiding star.
Insight from a drag queen podcast
While driving to work, it is a guarantee that I am normally listening to music. This year I started adding in podcasts to my commutes. One afternoon while heading the a trail I frequent for hiking and running, I was listening to a podcast of What’s the T with RuPaul and Michelle Visage.
This particular episode, Ru was talking about how his husband absolutely loves Christmas and goes all out each year. Ru had always disliked the holiday due to memories of his upbringing. I was nodding along to the stories he told and how I experienced some of them. The shocker came when Ru said he has learned to love Christmas because of George, his husband. How could the love of one man make someone change so easily? I was confused and intrigued.
What RuPaul shared was that in talking to his therapist and some soul searching, he found out that his personal feelings of the holiday season shouldn’t be the focus for his future. Those things are in the past. Since his partner loves the holiday it is better to be supportive and understanding and that was when the “switch was flipped” for RuPaul. The lesson that was being taught was that it is easier to be excited and happy for a person who is excited and happy about a given thing than to try to alter your feelings of the thing. Confused? I thought so, let me explain.
RuPaul was learning that it was much easier to love George and his views of Christmas than to try to overlook his personal feelings and past and become a Christmas lover. For me it means I can be excited about Christmas because Karl is excited. I can have fun planning things that he likes and watching his response instead of trying to get over the dark memories I have and pretend they didn’t have an effect on me. This of it as listening to an album (do people still use this term?) of your favorite artist, not every song on it is going to be amazing but you still love the album, genre of music and the artist, just not that specific song.
I got a new attitude
This came as a revelation to me and strange at the same time. What has allowed me to accept this is that there are plenty of things that Karl tolerates that I like and doesn’t complain about it. The same process could be applied to my thinking. I don’t have to love Christmas and pretend what we went through as kids didn’t happen, I only have to be excited that he is excited about it. I enjoy Christmas through his enjoyment.
In short, you won’t see me out caroling the neighborhood or dressing up as the jolly old fat guy but I don’t mind decorating for the holidays, watching movies, or the parade of holiday hits from November 1st to January 1st. It has become our time, our holiday and that makes it more special than my memories.