It’s radical. Unorthodox. And probably really ill-advised for a blogger, since bloggers live to tell the long tales of angst and irony. But if early indications are accurate and if I can trust my instincts, I think I might actually be happy.
Even more dizzying is the sense that I might have a happy, peaceful holiday. Mellow. I see the Christmas horizon and on it is written in puffy white clouds “It’s cool, baby, it’s cool.”
Those of you who always have a swell time at Christmas can go curl the ribbons on your already-wrapped gifts. The rest of you, the ones who always think their Christmas tree is about to tip over, stay with me. I’m going to help you out. I got to this velvety place the hard way and I’m going to explain. Before I start, please know that nothing about this journey has been intentional; it’s only after the fact that I see the footprints in the snow leading up to the smiley face that surrounds me this fine evening.
So three things. It’s always good to have a number, right?
First, it helps if Christmas is never the same. I think people get really hung up on doing everything exactly the same every year. Same dinner, same people, same jokes, and for some, same arguments, same tantrums, same wondering why everyone puts up with the same aggravation. My view? Doing things the same will fuck you up. Why? Because something always will be not right. My older daughter brought her boyfriend home for Christmas one year; while everyone sat in the living room Christmas morning, I was in the kitchen, totally unnerved by the new person sitting amongst us in our old bathrobes and promptly sliced my finger, blood everywhere. She thought it made him feel unwelcome. I went to the ER for stitches. If I hadn’t been so nailed to the concept that everything had to be the same every year, having her boyfriend there would have been no big deal. The year before, we might have had Aunt Matilda and the next year, we might have finally let Elijah in after having him wait on the porch since Passover.
Second, you can choose what you want, where you want to be, and who you want to be with. You don’t have to spend time with people who make you feel like shit. Do stuff that gives you a headache. Or cook weird shit that has 24,000 ingredients because your grandmother did. Luckily my grandmother went to the Kroger’s for her ‘special’ treats so no big lurking generational performance expectation there. One of the most freeing things I’ve done in the past few years is to go to a Chinese restaurant on Christmas Eve. I don’t know why but I absolutely love this. Maybe it’s all that Chinese red. You get my point. Life is short. Make a list of people, stuff, food, rituals that are really not worth the time or stress and shit can them.
Third, cast around and find something more important than who’s getting what. This year and last, I’ve been collecting new socks for homeless people. It’s not a huge deal. Certainly not going to change the world but I like thinking two things actually. First, I like thinking that, by just asking, I can move people to do something nice for homeless people, and second, I like the idea that some guy who has been feeling the cold sole of his shoe, who maybe has diabetic ulcers on his feet, or is just walking around freezing in our upper Midwestern town, I like the idea that someone will hand him a new pair of really nice socks, he’ll put them on and it’ll feel really nice. And that will be just one less crummy thing he’ll have to think about that day. So Christmas for me now has a lot to do with the bags of socks that are sitting in my dining room at the moment, separated into big bags for men, women and children. Yes, there it is. Merry Christmas.
So much of this sudden peace-finding is the gradual divorcing of myself from my own cracked expectations and from my ongoing belief that everyone on the planet is happy but me. It’s comparison to these standards – the ones that just appear and just are for no apparent reason – that messes us up. If you drop the standards, declare independence from expectations that twist you in knots, you have time to be happy.
And when you’re happy, the people who love you are happy. Really. I know this to be true.
Graphic design by Natalie F., a small but beautiful artist living in San Diego, CA.