When the holidays aren't all they're cracked up to be

Please know that all of the following is written in the spirit of fun and jest but also truth.  I have found myself in similar yet not identical situations and do not mean to implicate any of my family and friends in particular.  I know that I contribute my fair share to holiday drama!

The holiday snap.  It's a thing.  It may not be officially known as such, but I'm convinced that we all, at least at some point in the season, find ourselves in its clutches. 

You know what I'm talking about: that moment when you have just HAD IT.  You're done.  You're over it, so over it.  You've made the fifteenth call to yet another family member explaining that yes, you would love to see them this year, but that unfortunately their party conflicts with the other gatherings you have also been asked to join.  You went to the post office for the third day in a row because you forgot to mail another present.  You know that the holidays really are not about the gifts and the food (at least, that's what all of the Hallmark movies and church sermons tell you) but they really are, in fact, at least partly about the gifts and food because that one year that you went on strike and ate Chinese for Christmas dinner and donated the money you would have spent on presents to charity, no one was very happy.  So this season you are up to your elbows in confectioner's sugar and tissue paper.  Oh, and you accidentally ordered 20 wreaths instead of two for your daughter's front doors, so now your porch is full of non-returnable Smith & Hawken boxes.

The pressure has been building and building for days.  But it is when your dog trips you as you walk down the stairs with your arms full of packing material or your husband announces that he has committed you to his work party that begins in an hour that you lose it. "Do you have any idea what is on my plate right now?" you snap, and then proceed to launch into a five minute monologue, ranting about how no one appreciates you.  Your poor dog cowers and walks towards her bed and your husband begins massages your shoulders, stops, hesitates, and then starts again.

You eventually simmer down, until almost the same incident happens again--or maybe it doesn't happen again, at least not until the next holiday season.  After those explosions, though, you can never recover the same sense of optimistic possibility, that sense that THIS YEAR, the holidays will be different.  They will be joyful and yet serene, perfect and yet relaxed, social and yet intimate.  You discover as though for the first time--but in fact, the same realization dawns on you every year--that you ask too much of the holidays, that all of the disappointment and ordinariness of the ordinary days you want somehow to transform or redeem from November 25 to January 1.

But it does not work that way.  No amount of holiday music or family togetherness or Christmas pageant cuteness can equal the perfection we have conjured up in our minds.

This is where the writer in me tries to wrap up everything into a neat little bow, to throw out a few elegant, poetic sentences to explain away the messiness and frustration of the reality I have just described.  

Except not wrapping everything up into a neat little bow is kind of the point.

I think the "let down" moments are actually an essential part of the holidays.  Sure, some of it has to do with the commercialism of it all.  Buying stuff never ultimately satisfies us--it makes us happier often, but not complete.  Tensions run high whenever we attempt to juggle multiple people's desires and feelings, so we inevitably feel inadequate when we cannot please everyone.  But I think some of the anger and disappointment that provokes us to snap actually points to something else: the recognition that all is not perfect and perky and love-filled, which is what we make out the holidays to be.  Real life is messy, at best, and sad and screwed up, at worst, and the same only logically will be true of our holiday celebrations because imperfect people are involved. 

The holidays do not erase or overpower the imperfection that characterizes our lives.  What if we let the mess and chaos into the holiday preparations rather than trying to push it out?  Would it make things easier?  Would we snap and explode less?

Ending on a half-baked thought--an untied bow, if you will--only seemed appropriate.

Emily Rowell Brown