Everyone loves to provide all the platitudes around this time of year, and generally I think people do seem to try and be more pleasant towards the holiday season (whether it be genuine or not), but the older I get, the more I realize that people seem to really selectively choose who exactly they are pleasant towards, and the more hurt they are trying to cover up.
We all get shown the perfect Christmas for at least a 6 week shopping season. We get given movies, tv shows, and ads trying to shove the perfect Christmas towards us on a perfect silver platter. But sometimes, that’s not reality. Andrea and I love watching every new Hallmark movie that gets produced (which is over 40 Christmas movies per year), and while most people think they are all completely unrealistic and ridiculous, we are beginning to see more and more realistic emotions and situations depicted as the years go on.
The closer Christmas gets each year, the more people feel the stress and pressure of marketing, sure, but more importantly – personal memories and expectations. Perhaps they did have that perfect Christmas season year after year as children, and are now striving to recreate that for their own families, not taking time to think about how much their parents worked extra hard and lived the same stress to make sure their kids had everything. The cycles never seem to end and most people don’t seem to reflect on it, they just keep pushing forward.
Of course you also have the people whose lives have changed immensely, perhaps they find themselves separated from their family, estranged, homeless, or any number of situations. Maybe many loved ones have since passed away. Their lives and families may never be the same again. Or what about those who never had a perfect Christmas experience growing up and are still striving to make it happen?
When people are all under that pressure to relive old memories, create perfect new ones, and chase down happiness that once was or has never been, it’s no wonder why they lose sight of basic human decency at times.
Retail workers get treated poorly when an item is out of stock and that item happens to be the ONLY thing that will save Christmas. People risk their lives in bad weather, angry at everyone else trying to be safe on the roads. Service workers get yelled at by people when things don’t go their way. People overspend, overcompensate, and expect everything to be completely centred around them. Suddenly no other person matters to them. Selfishness abounds and the whole time we think we are being joyous and giving, but really we are only thinking about our situation and our plans, and our lives.
The expectations are extreme and unbending. Once in awhile, take a step back and reflect.
When I was a growing up, we had very little. We relied on food banks regularly, not just at Christmas. But this season was special in that we signed up every year for Christmas hampers for low income families. Usually there was extra food and some generic gifts (a donor may get a basic list that states “Boy: Ages 11-13”). If you were extremely lucky, they’d have a system in place for me mom to list some things that I am interested in, but that only happened a couple times. Most years I got a random gift or two that had no relation to who I am or what I enjoyed.
I was grateful for these gifts, but also eternally grateful for my mom who would go to the store and put one gift on layaway for MONTHS, making small payments each and every month out of her disability cheque so that I could have a special gift that she knew I would love.
At the time, I never knew what a struggle it must have been for her to budget that payment. I mean obviously I knew my gifts were on layaway and I knew we had no money at all, but I didn’t know the adult pressure of a perfect Christmas. I did not know the pressure of a budget; affording a home and food, etc. To be thinking about Christmas way back in spring just to be able to afford one gift for your child. I hope I will never live that life.
This Christmas, I hope you all have treated service and retail workers with kindness and respect. I hope you are able to have the Christmas of your dreams. I hope you have loved ones to be with, and I hope you are able to have your version of a perfect holiday.
But if something doesn’t work out, or you weren’t able to find everything you wanted to find, or you didn’t have enough money to put it all together, or the weather ruined your travel plans, to you I say this:
Make your Christmas or your holiday or your day or weekend unique and special to you. Look around you and find something to be thankful for, because even those in the worst situations can often be thankful for very small pleasures. Do not ever compare this year to any other year. Do not try to relive memories that are impossible to recreate.
This Christmas is this Christmas, and it will be what it will be.
Prioritize your mental health. You can honour the past without perfection.