When holiday season rears its head, it feels like an annoying splinter I can’t seem to wriggle free. The actual holiday itself isn’t the issue, but rather my expectations or perception of how the time should be spent.
Since I am an only child, don’t have children, and come from a small family, the stressful cooking and shopping serpent doesn’t loom overhead. I feel like I’m dust slowly gathering on the outside of a fishbowl—everyone else is frantically swimming around gift buying, dessert baking, and holiday decorating, but I’m stationary—on the outside, hoping to be wiped free.
All of those actions haven’t made it to my to-do list or calendar and I don’t foresee it happening in the near future. Does that mean I somehow feel left out? Yes and no. In some respect, I’m relieved I don’t have the same stress or anxiety as others. However, there’s a part of me that wants the traditional traditions—baking, presents, tree, and family; real family. Maybe a smidgen of Martha Stewartism could sprinkle my way and magically put me back in sync with everyone else.
As an adult who has moved away from my hometown and state, an unconscious question reveals itself, “What are you running from or running to?” Due to circumstances, I haven’t had the chance to establish my own traditions, so there is a feeling of longing and insecurity. For example, saying I was in Las Vegas for a Thanksgiving a few years back makes me feel slightly abnormal, as if announcing that I’m so thankful, I spent my time in Sin City!
Being packed in like sardines at a stretched piecemeal table, bumping elbows, and frantically passing food about while trying to partake in simultaneous conversations isn’t my idea of an ideal holiday. Instead, going to a restaurant for a juicy steak rather than a dried out turkey and intimate conversation, seems more like my speed. Or is it? That Thanksgiving in Vegas, I was comforted to see there wasn’t an empty table in sight at the steak house and families were congregating at the door to be seated. Apparently, the practice of eating out for a holiday is actually a tradition in itself, but I wasn’t aware, since I’d never done it before.
Last year was the holiday season from hell. Just a couple weeks before Thanksgiving my heart and life as I knew it was gutted. I was in a massive state of shock, depression, and despair. I was a walking empty shell of exhausted numbness. At the last minute, I flew home to my parent’s house in Washington for Thanksgiving. I cried on the flight there, cried the bulk of Thanksgiving Day, and cried on the flight home. My family hasn’t experienced much turbulence, so the silence and sideways glances just punctuated, rather than comforted the pain. Although they meant well and I was “back home,” I felt like I was wearing a massive Scarlet Letter with a capital “L” stamped across my forehead. Loser.
I’m relieved and proud to say what a difference a year makes! My mental and emotional state has improved leaps and bounds. I’ve never worked so hard on my own well being as I have in the last year. At times it has been absolutely exhausting. There are still rough days, sleepless nights, and tears, but it’s short lived. The positives are prominent, my smile genuine, and my eyes bright for my future.
This Saturday I fly south to Indio to spend Thanksgiving week with my parents. We’re going golfing, wine tasting, out to a nice dinner Thanksgiving Day, and since I’ve never been there, I plan to do some exploring on my own. BUT, there’s still a piece of me that has a longing for traditional traditions. A yearning for my own family unit; to feel like I am not just the “plus one” at the table.
Perhaps that’s my problem. I’d like a reliable source to tell me that I’m okay; there’s nothing wrong with me. Or, show me there is a way; a way that is purposeful, clear, and balanced.
James Agee once said, “You must be in tune with the times and prepared to break with tradition.” In some instances, this may be true. However, I think tradition is repetition binding everything together; the backbone of family. We’ve become so in tune with the times, we’ve lost sight of the past due to constantly looking ahead. Thus, traditions have fallen to the wayside, unable to withstand the continuous onslaught of change.
To me, life has become diluted over time and it is difficult to pinpoint exactly one’s original tradition. We pride ourselves as a country of freedom, choices, and diversity. However, what is our true identity as individuals and as a country?
While trying to promote independence and respect for differences, there has been a silent trigger, which I believe has caused loss of culture in itself. It is the repetition of actions accumulated over time that creates traditions within a culture. Variation can lead to doubt or instability, which alters one’s identity as an individual. “In America nothing dies easier than tradition,” wrote Russell Baker. How sad.
My heart is hopeful someday I will have traditional traditions. Until then, I will give myself permission to accept what is as it is. And dammit, I will continue to persevere. I will continue to get out of bed each day, smile, and hold my head high. The letter I now wear is “S” for Strength.
~D. Thompson, 11/16/15