For the past few years the holidays have been very difficult for me. Around November I start to get depressed thinking about Thanksgiving and Christmas. For more than 45 years I spent them the same way, with my family, the traditions varying little.
After getting divorce I changed many things in my life, and one of them was how I spent my holidays. But it wasn’t easy breaking from the tradition I was brought up in. And with some family members, when I stopped going to the family Christmas, I stopped seeing them altogether.
I wasn’t raised religious, but Christmas in my family was sacred in its own idiosyncratic way. It was “what you do”. I always felt like not going to the family holidays was an act of treason. That if I wasn’t a part of it, I’d get into trouble. And the guilt I felt from it haunted me. In the past years, around the holidays, I would find help with therapists and different kinds of healers, to help me understand why I was feeling the way I was and how to deal with it.
This year something different is happening.
I first noticed it when I was talking to my mother on the phone and didn’t feel any pangs of guilt when I told her Jon and I were going away for Thanksgiving (translation: once again we’re not spending the holidays with family).
Then something happened on the way to the Inn in Vermont where Jon and I spent Thanksgiving.
Jon was sleeping as I drove down the back roads to the Inn. It was an appropriately dreary November day, a light snow covering the ground. I started to get a familiar feeling. It’s a feeling I usually push away, one powerful enough to bring me down in moments. And it comes with the cold weather, short days and the holidays.
It’s primarily a feeling of melancholy, and loneliness. A feeling of coming down. This time, instead of pushing the feeling away, I decided to go into to it. To allow myself to feel it to its fullest, no matter how painful. I’ve done this before with feeling that I’ve avoided and find that once embraced they often lose their power.
What I found is, that beneath the melancholy and loneliness, or mixed in with it, was a feeling of warmth. Something deep red and glowing. When I described it to Jon later in the day, I cupped my hands as if I was holding a small, soft, warm, ball of energy.
As I drove through Vermont and thoughtfully experienced this feeling, I realized that the warmth and melancholy are for me an inherent part of the fall and winter season. When I disconnected it from the holidays it seemed completely appropriate to be feeling.
The end of long warm days, the beginning of long nights and cold weather, the lack of sunshine. It’s an inward time. And as the melancholy sets in, it’s balanced by the warmth that can come from spending more time indoors. Working fewer hours and going to sleep earlier. More time for dreaming and reading. A comfort in knowing there’s a safe, warm, cozy place to spend the winter.
So this feeling is actually a sweet one. For me, it’s a time of adjusting to the new reality that the winter brings. A winding down.
The problem was that I was attaching this feeling with my feeling of loneliness that came with the holidays. When I think back, since the child crazed joy of Christmas Morning faded, when it no longer held the euphoria of a bunch of gifts under the tree, I’ve been trying to figure out what it all means.
And for years, I did what I was supposed to do. Following the tradition and always feeling at a loss. The tradition had nothing to do with me. Held no meaning for me. And the loneliness came from being surrounded by people who felt the opposite of me. And me not being able to explain or understand my feeling. I was surrounded by the people who I was supposed to be closest to, yet felt completely alone.
Without the loneliness, the feeling of the holidays that I had been avoiding most of my life, wasn’t a bad feeling. It actually held the promise of bringing warmth to the cold and light to the darkness. Not the in your face euphoria of Christmas morning, but a gentle, loving, joy, filled with hope. The answer to the cold dark days.
And that’s just what I felt as Jon and I brought our bags into the old Inn in Vermont.
I didn’t cringe at the Christmas tree and decorations as I have in years past. And as we ate dinner in the newly painted deep red dining room, I remembered that this was just the kind of Thanksgiving dinner that I used to fantasize about when I hid my self in the bathroom during the family holidays.
In those fantasy’s a big man, who knew me in a way no one else did, would come into the house where I was having a holiday dinner with my family and say to me Come on Maria, let’s go. And because in the story I created, he was always very powerful, preternatural actually, I could leave without any backlash from my family. And we would drive to an old Inn in the middle of nowhere and eat a lavish dinner with glasses of red wine in a blood-red dining room.
But, of course, in real life there is no knight in dark armor. I had to rescue myself. I had to do the hard work of leaving, to suffer the pain of guilt and confusion, of trying to understand what was best for me.
This year, as Jon and I ate our crab stuffed cod for Thanksgiving dinner I realized I finally had what I always wanted. A quiet holiday with someone I love and who loves and knew me, like no one else. With out the guilt and fear of punishment for doing what I wanted.
Maybe I’m finally believing I have the right to spend my holidays and the rest of my life as I want to. Not as tradition or anyone else dictates. And for the first time in years, I’m already enjoying the holidays.