The entire genre of Christmas stories with the formula “Protagonist Saves Christmas” is doing us a disservice this pandemic year by teaching that the holiday is “saved” by massive efforts to restore the status quo: Santa-Delivers-Presents and accompanying traditions. These stories say that Christmas can’t be Christmas without a specific set of events and trappings, that it will be ruined if there is any disruption to those events and trappings. This primes people to panic and feel huge loss if they can’t celebrate in the ways they are accustomed to.
This year, more than ever, we need the story of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas where all the trappings are stripped away and Christmas saves the Grinch. This “Christmas Saves Protagonist” formulation is far more in tune with the holiday. So much so that it is a frequent sub-plot of “saves Christmas” stories. Yes, the Grinch story does end with the restoration of the traditions and trappings, but it didn’t have to. Christmas would have been fine even if the sled had gone off Mount Crumpit. That was the point. That’s WHY it saved the Grinch.
Pandemic restrictions may steal away portions of your holiday traditions that you value greatly. I’m pretty sure the Whos found great joy in all those trimmings and trappings. Yet on the Christmas morning when the Whos woke and found bare walls, the Whos gathered with a space in the middle for Christmas. And they sang. And Christmas came.
All of our traditions, gatherings, decorations, etc are merely a frame for something larger than ourselves to arrive into. We can change the frame without harming the holiday. If Christmas is holy to you (as it is to me,) that holiness exists with or without the tinsel and trappings. Trust that no matter what form your holiday must take this year, the holiness will show up to fill the space you create.
I saw a friend say “Happy Weirdsgiving!” on twitter, and I have now adopted the word to describe the holiday just past. Hopefully it will be a singular celebration and next year we can be back to Thanksgiving. I’m pretty burned out today. I had piles of anxiety and depression on the days leading up to the holiday. Most of it tied to grief over the holiday that couldn’t be. For example, I really, really missed being able to be unreservedly happy about other people’s plans without having to worry that their plans would contribute to pandemic spread. I missed being able to make my own plans without worrying I would also add to that spread. I felt reasonably settled about not seeing extended family, but I still haven’t uncoupled my brain from 24 years of being in charge of making sure my now-married daughter felt loved, included, taken care of during the holiday, and I kept crashing into the conflicting need to provide those while simultaneously not mixing households. Logically, we’re all adults and it should be fine. My anxiety brain was sure relationships were destined to be permanently damaged. Social anxiety is vicious. It prevents me from having exactly the conversations which would alleviate the concern, and then prevents me from believing the information I’m given by other people which logically should make everything fine. I ended up needing a rescue dose of anti-anxiety medicine on Wednesday night.
So Weirdsgiving part 1 was me repressing feelings of anxiety and depression by focusing on cooking ridiculously decorative foods. I didn’t even need the foods to turn out well. It was the making of them and then sharing results, good or bad. In fact failures would almost be better because I could invite everyone to laugh with me at how badly things went wrong. Part 1 lasted Monday through Wednesday
Weirdsgiving part 2 was day-of preparations. The elaborate Kitchen Timing Dance where Howard starts mashed potatoes while I start on roll dough. Then I work on finalizing pies and making rolls while Howard mashes potatos. Then I have my son smashing gram crackers while I twist roll dough into fancier-than-necessary knots. Then another kids shows up and becomes my secondary hands for gram cracker crusts, washing decorative serving dishes, putting out the turkey shaped butter, and dozens of rapid-fire, getting-ready tasks while I smash filling into croissants for chicken rolls, and start pasta for an alfredo bake. (We’re not turkey people.) I loved that chaotic stepping-around-each-other while everyone is focused on preparing food for everyone to share. It had a happy all-in-this-together energy. It culminated it the un-molding of the fancy jellos. They worked! I have photos!
Weirdsgving part 3 was dropping off a food box for my daughter and son-in-law. Sneaking a masked hug I probably shouldn’t have, even though I held my breath, but I haven’t seen her in two months. She lived in my house this time last year the proximity of the holiday makes her being moved out more real for a time. Everything is weird and hard, and hugs are how we make things better for each other, only this time they’re exactly what we shouldn’t. Telling them the Zoom meeting was already open and I’d see them on the computer, then driving away ten minutes to my own house. So close and yet not.
Weirdsgiving part 4 was supposed to be everyone at the table with the computer at the end, and talking and visiting and eating. And it was all of that. Three households connected via internet (Daughter’s former roommate gets to come to Thanksgiving as an adoptive family member.) The best bit being when I told them to examine the pie I put in the delivered food box, which told them clearly in pie crust letters “No Spiders in Here.” Daughter immediately scowled at us through the camera and said “Dad!” having correctly identified the party guilty of coming up with that idea.
However Weirdsgiving part 4 also included the moment when I called my son to come to the table and he said “why is the house so cold?” while shivering. So suddenly we had to quarantine a family member away from the table to be alone in his basement room where he had a panic attack that his fever and body aches were Covid. Which maybe they were? We couldn’t know, only quarantine. I bounced between taking care of suddenly-sick-quarrantined-and-scared, and trying to participate in the family joyful visiting of Zoomsgiving. I got to hear about a third of the exchanged stories. He calmed and got food. I got to participate in some of the laughing. Mostly it was joyful and good.
Weirdsgiving part 5 had fewer group games than anticipated. Leftovers were monched through, but quarantine tamped down the merriment once the Zoomsgiving call ended. Helpings of leftovers and mission-accomplished lassitude alternated with maybe-we-now-have-Covid-in-our-house anxiety. The major group activity was talking each other through anxiety attacks and contingency plans, which I guess is still family togetherness. Oh, and a brief Zoom call with extended family. It was nice to see faces.
Weirdsgiving was not supposed to have a part 6, but I’m including today’s outing for Covid tests into the whole bundle. The fever and body aches went away within a couple of hours. Sniffles, fatigue, and gastro symptoms lingered. So we’re solidly living with Schrodingers Covid for two days while we wait on results. It probably isn’t. We’re probably over reacting. But we’re still keeping quarantine just in case. Meanwhile we’re eating leftovers and I’m somewhat schlumped with all of my organizational circuits burned out. But all the positive responses to my food photo posts are making me happy. I love having added happy energy to social media and I’m really clinging to the energy that comes back to me. Without further ado: Photos from my Weirdsgiving
Tis the season for gratitude, or so I am informed by over forty years of personal tradition, a bazillion internet memes, and the leaders of my church. In many ways, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because it sidesteps so much commercialism and focuses our attention on being thankful for what we have and on connecting with those we love. And food, lots of delicious food. Yes, sometimes the food part gets complicated and can feel like a burden. Traditions do that because they are constructs. Someone has to put in the work to make the holiday happen. In a good year that person is working from a place of abundance, glad to share it. Other years, not so much. This year…. This year is weird. It has been weird since March. Pandemic required a seismic shift in the way my life is lived. Like an earthquake it changed everything and nothing at all. My house, people, and things are all here, but now I know that the ground under my feet, which always felt completely solid, can move and knock me down. If the ground can move, what else that feels certain isn’t as certain as I thought? So here I am in November after months of shifted life patterns, after canceled events, after unexpected gifts, after things I gave up and things I gained. I’m in the middle of the season for gratitude and I don’t know how to feel about Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is supposed to be joy and gathering, instead it may cause sorrow and permanent parting because people gathered when they shouldn’t have. I both desperately want it and wish it would go away.
Not knowing how to feel about a thing is a familiar state for me. Though it is less about not knowing my feelings and more about having so many tangled up and contradictory feelings that I can’t see all of them at once or even tell what they all are. I have untangled one. It is the memory of me huddled in a church bathroom sobbing because they were handing out graduation certificates to teenagers and my teenager’s mental health issues had prevented them from getting one. Crying for my own pain, hiding because I did not want my pain to subtract from someone else’s moment of celebration. I see people posting about gratitude on social media and I am so happy for my friends and the thing they are grateful for, but sometimes the thing they are grateful for is something I will never get to have. That is hard. On a year when I’m operating from abundance, being happy for others is easy. This year I have both abundance and depletion depending on which angle I’m sitting.
Gratitude is not a single action, it is a practice. All those parental admonitions to “say Thank You” weren’t just about teaching social politeness. They were intended to teach us a way of being, to recognize and acknowledge the good in our lives out loud. It is the simplest beginner-level of leading a grateful life. Naming the things we are grateful for is a valuable and important personal practice. We can note it for ourselves in short-hand because we know when we say “I’m grateful for sunshine” we are encompassing the feeling of radiant warmth of a patch of sunlight through a window despite the winter cold outside, or the way that the sunlight catches a loved one’s hair making them seem to glow. The poetry and emotional depth of the feeling is often missing in simply phrased gratitude posts because the post is a reminder, not the gratitude itself.
I think about this when I see posts that on their surface seem like humble-brags. There is depth beneath that surface which I’m not always privy to. Which is why I am glad when a post gives me a story. With a story I get a glimpse into the inner world of my friend. I get to learn about a piece of their life and how the thing they are grateful for shaped that life. The posts I treasure are the ones which show me how grief can be transformed into gratitude. The story shows the darkness and how they found their way out. That is the road map we all need. We all need to see how a pain, like the ones we carry, can be a force for good in our lives and how we can become glad to have experienced the pain. Pain and grief redeemed. I have so many odd-angled sadnesses sticking out of me this month, I’m collecting posts that help me see how to craft those sadnesses into something beautiful. Upcycling grief via online DIY instructions.
My social media feeds are filled with gratitude posts because my entire church community has been challenged to speak their gratitude via social media for the week leading to Thanksgiving. Hundreds of posts, and I have to approach them with caution. Because some will be a delightful window into the life & heart of a person I know, but others will remind me of a personal pain. Some will help me think of the joyous things I have in my life. Others will remind me of the ongoing slow-motion train wreck that is the increasing case rate and death toll of the pandemic. I’m raw and sensitive in ways that ambush me. A funny video of cosplayers in Halo costumes doing a dance at a convention leaves me sobbing because I don’t know when that form of spontaneous joy will get to exist again. This year gratitude and grief are inextricably entwined. I’m grateful for the things that have caused me grief and I’m grieving things for which I am grateful.
I am engaging in my own deliberate gratitude practice this year. I’m staying tightly focused on what is possible withing the confines of pandemic restrictions, finding joy where I am at, with what I can have right now. I’m focusing intently on small joyful actions and service. I am sieving gently through the social media posts to find those which add to my joy without disturbing my griefs. I am constantly aware that I’m like a scooter bug on water that has dark depths. I skate over the surface, held up by surface tension, creating resting places for myself as I go. This is not the year for me to search my soul. Instead I will try to breathe and live gratitude. I will make ridiculously decorative food for the Thanksgiving dinner I’m not sure how to feel about. I will put stickers on my journal entries where I write the shorthand notes about what I’m grateful for. I will keep myself moving forward on creative projects. I hope that will be enough to get me through the dark cold months. Somewhere beyond the cold and dark, things will come alive again. Perhaps then I’ll be able to figure out all the things I am feeling during this holiday season.
I’ve been feeling gray lately. Most years I don’t start feeling winter blah until after the holidays, but it came early this year. A friend says we’re all like squirrels starting the winter with empty trees, winter reserves already depleted. That feels true of me this year. This same friend has been combating the mood by undertaking a completely non-productive project which spends resources but makes her happy. I was glad to see it working for her, but no project I contemplated sparked any sort of joy in me. Holidays seemed a set of looming obligations instead of something to look forward to. On top of the gray mood, I seem to have hit a migraine cycle.
This morning I started the day with caffeine to stave off the impending migraine. The caffeine unlocked that portion of my brain which allows me to be happy about projects. I’ll pay for it with insomnia tonight, but this morning I purchased elaborate shaped silicone molds for making ridiculous desserts for Thanksgiving. (Molded jello, truffles, shaped butter, etc.) I have a plan which involves delivering food to my married daughter we’ll have to wave to from afar this year. I’m going to have my two in-house assistants help me create the ridiculous food. I also have fragmentary ideas for a blog post on how holidays are always a construct that we create for each other, and the shake ups of this year are an opportunity to create anew.
I hope I get to keep some of my creative anticipation once the caffeine wears off. My molds are arriving on Monday, so now I have a small thing to look forward to. After that I can look forward to making the foods. After that, delivering the foods. By the time I get there, I will hopefully have found some other small thing I can look forward to just a couple of days out. I think that is how I’ll make it through this winter. Not with anticipating large things that are weeks or months away, but by tossing small markers only a couple of days into the future, and making sure I toss the next one just before I reach the current one. It’s like a reverse Hansel and Gretel breadcrumb trail to lead me out the other side instead of back where I started.
Christmas time is a tradition heavy season. We bring out decorations that only take part in our lives once per year and then are carefully stowed away. When we pull it out again, we are connected with last year and any years before that where these objects took part in our lives.
Christmas is a time of renewal. We are connected with our past selves through the medium of tradition, and then how we interact with those traditions for this year becomes part of who we are in the future. Some years I have let go of long held traditions. Some years something we did meant so much to us that we repeat it the next year and the next. Occasionally traditions can be consciously started and maintained, but often we don’t realize we’ve made a tradition until it pops up again year after year.
This year is one of forging new traditions for my family. Not in a big overhaul-the-holdiay sort of way, but in small things. It is the first year that not all of my children will be sleeping under my roof for Christmas Eve. He’ll join us for celebrations and rejoin us in the morning for more, but in between he wants to be at his own home in his apartment in his own bed. This is the second year when not all my kids share all my religious beliefs. So we feel our way forward trying to honor the holiday as a religious event for some family members, while not forcing religious aspects on others. It worked beautifully last year, so I’m not worried for this year. We’ll find our way forward with love and laughter.
Weeks ago I alerted all the members of our family that I was not going to be the orchestrator of gifts. They had to do their own thinking and planning. And they did. It was such a relief for me to not have to keep a long list of suggestions. I did not have to brainstorm what would be a good gift for this child to give to that child. In truth, that was a role I should have given up long ago, recognizing that one of the best ways to teach someone to be a good and thoughtful gift giver is to let them fail at it a few times.
This morning I went out in the pre-dawn to purchase the food we’ll need for the holiday. While I was out, I went in search of garlands for our new stair railings. We’ve never had railings before this year, now we do. And now we have garlands and a wreath for them. It makes me happy. There is so much work we have planned for our kitchen and front room, but this one portion of our main floor is exactly as we want it to be. It is new, and yet it fits in so smoothly with everything that has gone before that it feels like was already a tradition waiting for us to uncover it.
May your celebratory seasons be full of both tradition and renewal.
I watched Jaws a couple of days ago. I haven’t seen it in years. There were moments when it really had me tense and other moments where I could see exactly how fake the mechanical shark looked. The scene that sticks in my mind is the one with all the people splashing and playing in the water while the music plays its ominous theme. The new year feels a bit like that to me. From this moment I have no way to know if I’m going to get a pair of kids with a shark fin that scared me for no reason, or if there will be blood and guts in the water. I don’t like feeling this way about the coming year.
Instead of focusing on the ominous feeling, I’m instead going to focus on other things. Another story that I read over the holidays was How the Grinch Stole Christmas. I’ve written about this story before, but this year the thing which struck me was the moment when the Grinch’s heart grew three sizes. Before the growth the Grinch could not empathize. He could not love Christmas or the people who loved it. Then his heart grew and suddenly he did love all of the things which had been irritating before.
In order to make the world better, I have to start by expanding my own capacity to love and to enjoy. That starts with paying attention to the people immediately around me. In my neighborhood, my congregation, my kids’ schools. I need to notice who is vulnerable in the places where I spend my days. I must think about what I can do to befriend them, help them feel safe and welcomed. This will be difficult for me because in my day to day life I tend to avoid talking to people unless it is necessary. It takes extra effort for me to chat with a grocery store checker. I need to be willing to be uncomfortable. I need to be willing to speak up and to make phone calls. I need to ignore my financial stresses and make donations to good causes anyway. I need to sacrifice pieces of my day to reach out to others. I need to put people before my schedule. I have to be willing to turn my day upside down to defend others if the system turns against them or they have a bad break. This is the boots-on-the-ground work of changing society.
The fastest way to get a song out of my head is to consciously replace it with a different song, one I won’t mind listening to on repeat. So when I contemplate the new year and I begin to hear the ominous Jaws theme, I will instead sing the tune sung by the Whos down in Whoville, and I will grow my heart however many sizes is necessary to take on 2017.
That one weird present everyone boggles over
The present which is exactly what a person was hoping for
The present that was handmade and tailored to the recipient
The gift that doesn’t work out of the box and will need to be exchanged
The note card which says the present is still en route
Games to play later
Movies to watch
Dinner yet to come
These are some of the pieces from which a Christmas morning is made. Hope yours has some of these and many more.
I put up the new wall calendar today. The calendar used to be the scheduling hub of the entire household. On it were all the appointments and events. If something needed to be remembered, it went on the calendar. These days most of the appointments never even get written on the wall calendar. They’re hidden away in my electronic calendar where they are far more useful to me. Yet the wall calendar is still useful. I come and look at it any time I need an over all view of the next weeks, months, or year. The kids reference it all the time when they need to count days or find out when the next school holiday is. So I spent an hour putting down the big events and birthdays for the year. Then I pinned it to the wall, moving it over slightly because the old spot had so many pin holes it was hard to get the pin to stick. Some day we’ll use piles of spackle to repair all those holes, but not today.
For now I’ll listen to the booming of the neighbor’s fireworks and glance at them out of my front room window, past the glow of the Christmas lights on our tree out front. The holiday season will soon be over, I should enjoy this last bit of it.
On the day after Christmas I spend time trying to remember what I was doing before the holiday took over all my available project-focused energy. I also spend time reading and playing a game with my kids. Howard is more focused than I am, he’s back at the drawing table, ready to get the work done. I feel guilt that I’ve not been a better business partner in the past few weeks. I would like to be able to match his creative drive instead of feeling like I’ve been a drag on the entire system.
In just one week we’ll have a new year. I don’t know how I feel about that. I wish that I did. I wish I could have a clear emotion of optimism and excitement, though I suppose I’m glad not to be mired in dread. I guess I feel much as I did last December. Though we’re all in a better place now than we were then. I still can’t see a clear path ahead, but the trail isn’t so dark and we have more maps than we had before.
On the first day of 2015 I said “Maybe at the end of the year I’ll be able to look back and tell a story about how it went.” I find myself as reluctant to formalize that story now as I was to predict it last January. The year was what it needed to be. Some of the hard things were necessary. I suspect that some of them were not. This next year will have hard things in it, but I hope it will have more triumphal moments, times where we stand in a good place disbelieving that we managed to arrive there. I would like one of those for each of my children who have been struggling. Bonus if Howard and I get one as well.
The path to those moments are paved with hard work, so I suppose I should get to it.