Winter Holidays

14:40 Mon 25 Dec 2006
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I tend to be underwhelmed by the winter holiday season. It’s not my favorite time of year, and plenty of its aspects irk me. (Not least: the cold and dark.) There are some wonderful things too, but I’m not feeling them as strongly as the rest, right now.

The things that get me down are primarily the expectation (the hype, really), the consumerism, and the end-of-year aspect (which is related to the hype).

Christmas is obviously incredibly consumerist, and I dislike this intensely. I also dislike the concentration of the present-buying for lots of different people into one event (unlike, say, birthdays, which are spread out and more individually-oriented). As someone who tends to rely on inspiration for gift ideas (and I tend to be somewhat binary in this way, i.e. either I have a good idea or I have no idea whatsoever), it’s not easy to get all the gifts together in time.

The hype makes this worse. The expectation (even if you don’t consciously swallow this, it still suffuses the season) is that you will make other people happy with the presents that you give them, and that you will be made happy by the presents they give you. If that doesn’t happen, then disappointment will rear its ugly head.

New Year’s Eve is, for me, a perennial letdown. Some years it’s worse than others, but in general the expectation is that you will go out and party wildly, and anything less than that is a disappointment. Or that you will somehow cap the year off, or ring in the new one, or both, in some meaningful fashion… and it’s pretty hard to do that, so again, disappointment looms.

Being single, somehow, seems to make all this worse. I tend to enjoy looking forward to the new year with a partner, as partnered plans seem much more hopeful in my mind; also, I have tended to like looking back on the previous year with a partner, something that also seems less pleasant when single.

The main pleasures of the winter holidays for me are gift-giving (yes, even though this contradicts my first gripe above), sharing in a sense of community, and time off work. The third one is pretty obvious, and the first two are related.

Christmas itself means little to me; I don’t celebrate it as a religious holiday, and consider it essentially a ripoff of much older traditions. However, since a lot of those older traditions also concerned a sense of community, that’s convenient enough.

The winter solstice means more to me, just because it is the darkest day of the year. In my view, the darkest time of year is exactly when people should come together and reinforce or underline their connections to each other. Gift-giving and simply spending time together are very good ways to do this. Spending time together is a great thing, but also something that’s less simple for me in practical terms right now, because a significant percentage of the people I care about are almost always going to be in another country…

Giving gifts, for all its consumerist overhead, is still an excellent way to show people that you appreciate them, and I love that aspect of it. I also see it as a form of symbolism, a way of saying “in this dark and cold time, I’m here for you, and here’s a gift to symbolize that”. Those things, the appreciation of and the solidarity with those who are close to you, are the things about the season that I love.

And to all those close to me (whether you end up reading this or not!): thanks for being there, I’m lucky to have you! I hope I’m seeing you soon, and that we get to spend time together. If you haven’t heard from me in a while, or I haven’t heard from you in a while, get in touch! And if I owe you a gift, it’s because I haven’t yet found the inspiration for the thing that will signify my appreciation and solidarity… I’ll work on it!

It might be cold and dark, but there’s still much love and warmth in the winter.

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