This week marks the beginning of another holiday season.  Theoretically, fall and winter holidays are a time of celebration, gratitude, generosity and togetherness.  The reality is that somewhere along the way, much of our spirit of giving got up and went, leaving the holidays a f*cking nightmare for many.

It starts with Thanksgiving. We eagerly await the arrival of relatives from out of town, their children and/or pets in tow.  Within minutes, close quarters begin to highlight our differences.  Disagreeing over recipes follows in short order, along with whispered complaints about each other’s parenting.  Next up is drinking to excess, arguing over politics, and the time-honored tradition of airing each other’s dirty laundry.  By the time we make it to the dinner table, things are awkward, if not resentful.  One person often does most or all of the cooking, sweating over every detail of a meal they probably won’t even get leftovers from (YAY!  Another thing to fight about!).  Someone always leaves before helping with the dishes, someone else eschews conversation for football.

Beginning at midnight following Thanksgiving begins Black Friday – when, in the name of giving (after all, we’re supposed to be gift-shopping, right?), we push, shove, even trample each other on our way in and out of the stores.  We fight over parking spaces, and honk irritatedly at people slowly pushing their shopping carts, or taking up space and time in the mall garage.  This pattern increases with frequency and severity all the way up through Hanukkah and Christmas right through New Year’s, when the highest percent of alcohol-related fatalities occurs within minutes of making resolutions to better ourselves in the new year.

I’m not trying to say that this is everyone’s experience; rather acknowledging that for many, the holiday season is not all mistletoe and magic.  Our advertising and culture of consumption trains kids to think in terms of want rather than need.  Adults fall victim as well, focusing on getting and consuming rather than embracing a spirit of generosity.  This time of year can be deeply painful as well.  Some families are separated by distances or circumstances beyond their control.  Maybe there has been a recent separation or divorce.  Perhaps a spouse or parent is in the military stationed far away, or local but sick and even dying.

Any holiday which emphasizes family will magnify feelings of loss and loneliness.  For every person irritated by a parent’s insistence on doing things the same archaic way each year, there are two people who desperately wish their mom remembered how they used to do it – or recognized her disaffected teenaged grandkid (looking at his iphone rather than his family gathered around the table).  There are those who have lost loved ones, the excruciating pain of their absence intensified by the empty seat at the table, or receiving holiday cards from a family who remains intact, and healthy.

Many do find themselves embracing true holiday spirit – volunteering, donating, contributing.  It is a beautiful thing, but we can do more.  We can do differently.  We can extend an invite to someone who might be spending the holiday alone.  We can slow down and let someone merge into our lane of traffic, or park in the space we were planning to claim as our own.  We can focus on the great music we have in the car instead of the traffic we’re sitting in. We can look at our kids acting fresh and remind ourselves that we’re unbelievably lucky to have them, sass and all.  We can make a conscious effort to see the glass half full.  Rather than waiting to make new year’s resolutions, we can make new day resolutions.  And we can start right now. <3

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