People ask me, “Do you have anything special planned for the holidays?” My honest answer is always, “I do what I want all year. I love my work and I only do other things that I enjoy. I really don’t need the holidays, like many do.”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for putting aside special times to refuel, gain perspective or simply celebrate what you have. I appreciate and respect those aspects of holidays, as they are for some. I believe people should tend to these things more during the rest of the year, and they might not depend on holidays so much to desperately “sneak” them in. But I still understand the purpose.
On the whole, however, there is more to dislike about holidays — as we know them — than to like, if you ask me.
One problem I see for a lot of people is family. Some people are fortunate to have, in certain family members, people they would otherwise choose as friends or associates. Most of the time, this isn’t so true. In some cases, people are related to family members they would honestly have nothing to do with, were they not related. This is how they honestly feel, although they won’t admit it. Then, adding insult to injury, they expect themselves to spend hours or days on end with people they dislike or even detest — all because “it’s family” and “it’s the holidays.”
In my profession, some of these people who detest their families ask me: “How can I better cope with the holidays?” Gee, let’s think about this. Give me four exercises or happy thoughts to help me pretend to like people I wouldn’t spend time with if I were not supposedly obliged. The answer seems so startling in how obvious it is: Don’t spend the holidays with people you detest or dislike. Not only is this answer not obvious; it’s shocking and appalling, to most people, to even consider it. “Not spend the holidays with my family?! It’s unthinkable.” I understand this reaction if you adore your family, or at least like them enough to spend time with them once a year, time which you find special and enjoyable. But this is the reaction I get — even more intensively — with people who dislike or detest their family. How dare you suggest the unthinkable when the unthinkable is actually the rational, if not the obvious.
I have always thought, indeed assumed, that family is who you make it — and who earns it. It’s up to each and every one of us, in the end, to decide who makes the cut and who does not — for holiday time, as well as for all of life. If you’re unwilling to look at it this way, then you have no business complaining when the holidays become the “hellidays,” as some people call them. Short of holding a gun to your head, nobody has the power to make you do something you choose not to do, no matter how you might feel to the contrary.
Many people, I find, do more or less what they want to do for a good portion of the year. They marry whom they want to marry and they more or less choose and keep the friends they want. As much as feasible, they choose the jobs or careers that suit them best. But when it comes to the holidays, it seems like all bets are off. “I must do what tradition dictates. I must be with people who are my biological family, whether this suits me or not — whether I like it, dislike it, or despise it. I must, I must, I must ….” It’s almost as if semi-rational, semi-enlightened people revert to the laws of the tribe, i.e. the jungle or the primitive. All in the name of … what, exactly? Holiday spirit?
Again, don’t get me wrong. I’m not inherently in favor of spending time with family or not spending time with family at the holidays. I’m not inherently in favor of tradition, because it’s tradition, nor am I against tradition merely because it’s tradition. The one thing I am against is the idea that you should spend any moment or hour of your life engaging in inauthentic, dishonest and self-defeating behavior — all in the name of an “ideal” (self-sacrifice) that is not an ideal at all, a fact which most people reluctantly semi-recognize for many other hours of their lives.
It seems to me that if holidays are to be special, they should uphold what you consider to be the best and beautiful about your life. The connections and associations most important to you — biological or not — should be the ones you celebrate at holiday time. It makes no sense, and frankly seems perverse, to fake a smile and pretend that holidays are about celebration, when in actuality they’re the time you choose to make yourself most miserable of all.
The fact that most will not agree with me on this — or, worse yet, reply, “You’re right intellectually, but not emotionally” — helps me understand why human beings are generally in the great mess that they’re in. They go through life thinking they’re supposed to do what others want them to do. Sometimes they act on this belief — usually making themselves miserable — and sometimes they go against it, doing what they want — and then feeling guilty or otherwise neurotic about it. No wonder the world is dominated by so much depression, anxiety, substance abuse and other things, including but not limited to political and religious dictatorship.
It doesn’t need to be so hard, people! If you’re miserable this holiday season, then reflect on it for next year — and all the days still to come.
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