The Holidays: Exploring Our (Broken) Expectations

adelle-labrecqueBY ADELLE LaBRECQUE
Staff Writer, UAS Whalesong

“…He was screaming at her. It was Christmas Day and they were standing in the bathroom—door wide open—fighting, while everyone was forced to listen from the living room, deciding whether or not to intervene. The children were crying, the adults were ready to cry—it was a nightmare. Talk about an awkward rest of the day together…Eeeek.” (Interview: Anonymous, November 27th, 2016).

Oh, “The Holiday Season.” It’s officially upon us. Thanksgiving is over, Black Friday and Cyber Monday have raised our credit card balances by the hundreds, and snow shoveling has begun. Christmas music is on the radio and icicle lights line the houses on the street. Our local markets are filled with reds and greens, and delicious treats are everywhere. We anticipate the annual showing of Christmas classics on television, and put our creative energy into perfecting that Ugly Christmas Sweater for the upcoming work party. Tasty holiday recipes reaffirm why we still cook them every year, as they capture those distinct flavors of the season. Humorous memes and “Holiday Wishes” fill our Facebook News Feeds, and the Hallmark Channel reminds us of everything we have to be grateful for when we’re being a Grinch. Spiked eggnog reveals our Inner-Mixologist and we share our holiday creations with our loved ones, while excitedly discussing the gifts we’ve bought. Indeed, the holidays can be one of the most enjoyable times of the year for many of us. However, unfortunately, that does not mean all of us. In fact, it’s worth acknowledging that, for a large number of people, the holiday season can literally be one of the most difficult times of the year. It can trigger mixed emotions within people, as well as highlight any feelings of loneliness and loss. If you are someone who doesn’t necessarily look forward to the holidays for any reason, take comfort in the fact that you are not alone. Every family unit has experienced significant, difficult change. Whether it be an uneasy change in marital status, or the death of a loved one, or having your children move away for college, it is obvious how those changes can make for a challenging holiday season. For some, maybe you have outlived your closest family members—an extremely difficult circumstance. Or perhaps for some readers, “the holidays” just means you are going to have to listen to your family argue the entire time you have to spend with them—who could blame you for not wanting to be present at another holiday gathering?

For this article, I thought it would be interesting to conduct a number of interviews, asking people to share their experiences, and truest feelings about the holiday season. With their permission, I have included a few highlights below.

So, if by chance, your holiday experience generally sounds like the one I chose to open this article, I assure you: you’re not nearly as alone as you think:

“…In high school, I experienced my first “Split-Christmas.” Anyone with divorced parents will know what that means: it’s those multiple hours you have to spend “splitting” your holiday into two or more portions so that you see get to see everyone, and it’s super stressful. You feel like you’re always driving! One half of your time is spent at one parent’s house, and the other half is spent at the other. It’s exhausting. I just want to be “still” on Christmas, you know? … The worst one though, is when you have to meet a new partner. That sucks. The last thing I want to deal with on Christmas is meeting a new girlfriend. It’s like, dude, pick another day. I’m here to see my Dad, not have small talk with you.” (Interview: Anonymous, November 27th, 2016).

“I have a very big family. I have seven siblings, two parents, two dogs, plus my sister’s pregnant this year…I just feel like everyone should get a gift from me, so I can show my appreciation and I feel like I should spend the same amount on everyone. It’s my way of giving back, because I feel like I’m never at home and I and a nice gift can make everyone happy … [And] financially, I can never afford it.” (Interview: L. F., November 27th, 2016)

“…I [also] wish that when we came together to see each other, we were happy to see each other…None of my family members are ever really happy to see anyone…none of us really get along.” (Interview: Anonymous, November 27th, 2016).

“One Christmas my grandmother died, so on Christmas Eve, my parents had to fly home [outside of Alaska] to deal with that…it was just a really sad Christmas. Our parents weren’t there, and every year afterward my mom has been super depressed on Christmas because of that experience—it’s definitely not the best time of year for my mom.” (Interview: L. F., November 27th, 2016).

Many of us have experienced a holiday or two like that. No matter what effort we put forth, and how hard we worked, nothing seemed to turn out the way we planned. We burned the food we spent hours cooking, or our moody children continually tested our patience. Perhaps we were forced to attend an uncomfortable worship service, or experienced a tragic family death—all of these can add a lot of stress that can lead us astray from the “magic” of the holidays. As you approach this holiday season, do you anticipate difficulties of various kinds? Will a family gathering be somewhat of a struggle, or will it be an exciting, heartwarming event?

Inspired by these interviews, I have created a sort of template for you to use, if you’d like, to assist you in any possible holiday drama, and hopefully support you in any broken expectations you may experience. If you are reading the printed version of this article, I highly encourage you to (anonymously, or including your name if you wish), share your answers below so others can read your experiences—there is something to be said for an intimate anonymous conversation between strangers. If you run out of room, write on the sides of this page—write all over. Share as much as you wish. If you are using the Whalesong Facebook Page, or the direct website, feel free to share your experiences in the comments with us, and engage in a conversation that has the potential to bring us some laughter, perhaps a few tears, some food-for-thought, and—as I always aim to do—provide a bit of healing. Good luck, best wishes in your holiday season, and happy sharing!

1. Do you look forward to the holidays? Please feel free to explain why or why not.

2. What would your “ideal holiday experience” be like? Is there anything specific you wish you could do or accomplish? Would you prefer more or less time spent with family? Explain.

3. Would you say that you enjoy the time you spend with your family during the holidays? Why or why not?

4. Have you ever felt lonely during the holidays? If so, please feel free to share your experience.

5. Have you ever experienced a negative incident during the holidays that significantly altered your experience? (For example: arguments; stressful travel; poor communication and/or planning that resulted in disappointment; loneliness; missed flights; etc.).

6. Are there going to be any circumstances this year that may make this holiday season somewhat different, unusual, or perhaps even difficult? (For example: a recent divorce or separation; a new home and/or location; a new school; departed loved ones; etc.).

7. When being completely honest with yourself, would you say that you sometimes have unrealistic expectations for the holidays? If so, what aspects? (For example: gifts; food preparation; travel; gathering with family; overall holiday costs; etc.).

8. Does your personal holiday experience force you to engage in traditions and/or activities that you feel pressured or obligated to take part in? (For example: visiting a specific person; attending a worship service; excessive travel; etc.).

9. Would you say that, in an attempt to create the “ideal” holiday experience, you put an excessive amount of stress on yourself? Do you know someone who does this to themselves during the holidays? Explain.

10. Have you had a specific positive experience during the holidays that left you with a happy memory? If so, what was it? Why do you think that experience that was so powerful?

11. Is there a positive goal that you could set for yourself this holiday season in order to make it more enjoyable? How can you achieve this goal? (For example: “I’d like to place less stress on myself this year by allowing others to help me achieve my tasks, rather than attempting to do them all by myself.” or, “I will refrain from drinking alcohol at a family gathering this holiday season, because I know it may lead to arguments between myself and family members.” etc.).

12. What would be something you could do to remind yourself of those personal goals so that you can be successful?

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