I am thirty-four. That means, for the first time, I am finally reaching an age that chronologically matches the way I’ve felt mentally.
Christmas has never been a favorite holiday of mine. As a young child, it was either Christmas or the time leading up to Christmas that holds memories of my earliest abuse. I remember being in my room, with my door cracked open, and hearing the Peanuts Christmas Special playing on the tv in the living room. I had a bed with a pink canopy and I could see the bright blue and white lights from the tv flashing through the crack in the doorway, dancing on the canopy. One of the most beautiful Christmas songs of all time was playing; Vince Guaraldi’s “Christmastime is Here.”
But this is not a story about my childhood abuse. Or how I detest Christmas music, especially that Guaraldi tune. Or how tv lights in a dark room make me want to jump out of a window. But rather, how that very early memory has influenced my view of Christmas as a holiday. And how I’ve finally decided to let go of my Christmas ghosts.
At thirty-four I had the most relaxing Christmas I’ve had in my life, thus far. I did nothing on Christmas Eve. No church services, no family gatherings. On Christmas Day I did spend a few hours with my in-laws, but it was all family I’ve known for over a decade, and family I don’t have a particular cultural identity with. Their traditions are not my childhood traditions. So, at best, I was a visitor with inside knowledge; but did not feel particularly strong about how the holiday turned out.
Whereas, within my own family, Christmas started deteriorating quite a long time ago.
What happens to all families is what happened to both my paternal and maternal side. Patriarchs and matriarchs die. Cousins move away. Families become insular as your aunts and uncles become grandparents and the standard two Christmases becomes four…or six. Soon you see your cousins and their kids and aunts and uncles only at funerals and an occasional wedding.
But despite my general detest of the holiday due to my history with Christmas, I think what surprises me the most about Christmas is how it’s never felt magical to me. It has always felt burdensome.
So this year I took myself out of the game completely. It was such a relief.
I didn’t have to pretend that Christmas Carols don’t make me cringe. I didn’t have to pack a bunch of food and give explanation for my dietary restrictions or why I’m not drinking. I didn’t have to breathe through clenched teeth when some abuse memory was unintentionally triggered. I didn’t have to look at small children (especially redheaded children…because there are obviously cousins and second cousins and so on with redhair) and feel the sadness that redheaded children always create in my heart.
I felt allowed to basically ignore the holiday. To let it pass and with it childhood memories that make me angry or, alternately, sad.
It was easier this year to ignore the holiday. My parents and brother were down in Texas. My extended families did not have a large, communal get together. I do not belong to a church nor do I book myself for Christmas Church gigs.
It was lovely. And, yes, I was basically a grinch. I watched the only Christmas movie worth anything (It’s a Wonderful Life), and just opted out of everything else. I’ve found great solace in celebrating the solstice and the end of dark days instead of trees and lights and presents.
And I’m not sure it could have been any more sweet.