I looked up the other day and realized I was making plans for NOVEMEBER. Where has October gone? Where has 2011 gone? It seems like yesterday I was having iced tea instead of hot tea? New Years and 2012 will all be here quickly. Thanksgiving…for many that means big, steamy meals with family. Thanksgiving also marks the coming of Christmas, Hanukah, Black Friday, reminders of what we don’t have in our bank accounts, sparkly and fragrant trees and last minute mailings. And then…discounted gym memberships and suggestions on how-to-beat-the-winter-blues that follow New Years.
Same ‘ole, Same ‘ole
Every year, we cycle through the end-of-the-year holidays, the repetition allowing us to build traditions and also be bored by them. Holidays are not happy times for many people. Even for “normal” people, there is often tension during holiday plans. Or loneliness, or a tremendous amount of stress, or sadness, or grief. The All-American Holiday can include some difficult memories, difficult moments and difficult feelings.
Ready or Not
The hard part about what we see holidays “should” be (e.g. easy, warm, calm, fulfilling) is that the harder experiences cannot be avoided, or snuffed out by the best laid plans, creative decor, and cozy homes. This year, I know people that will celebrate their first Thanksgiving without a much-loved family member, never to return to their table. I know friends who will suffer through Thanksgiving with their difficult mothers or mothers-in-law, fathers or fathers-in-law, or wait for a sister or brother to criticize the way they always have, or try to connect with an estranged child, or cringe as mom and dad (or whoever) try to mask the regular angry, bitter interactions. We could all list what friends might experience, fill in blanks of awkward or painful situations that they will face in the 2011 holiday season. Remember to think about yourself…your own blank, your own strain or unfilled desire…and what you might like to see happen in a new and different way.
When writing this post, I thought of a movie I love…The Family Stone. An all-star cast presents a well-rounded version of what many holiday situations include – they involve people we may not like, nosy family members, lots of travel, awkward conversations around the dinner table. This story is told over an upcoming engagement that never happens (hence the need for the family stone), but the bigger picture is what is happening in the family. The matriarch whose
breast cancer has returned and will soon die, the gay son and his partner who are trying to adopt for a second time, the awkwardly rigid girlfriend attending this family’s holiday gathering and seems to make a mess of things, even when it is not her fault. What most can relate to in this story may not be the specific situations, but the desire you sense from all family members to enjoy the holiday, but the difficulty in having Reality and History as guests – we cannot escape what has happened to us all in our families…Reality and History do not take breaks for the holidays.
How can friends support one another during times of holiday stress, pain, loneliness or grief? There are no quick fixes to the issues we face, ones that usually require work and change prior to the holidays (e.g. if something is ignored all year, why would it have changed by Thanksgiving?), and sometimes may never be fully resolved.
- Do something new. Make a new tradition.
- Do something new with a friend.
- Gather with a group of friends to encourage, celebrate, give thanks.
- Share your true angst with someone you trust.
(One of my personal favorites…) Don’t eat your feelings. It can start a nasty spiral downward.
- Say no.
- Offer a kind word to a friend you know is going to have a hard time.
- Invite a lonely person to join your family. Many people do not have the All-American meal, with or without the awkwardness.