The polarization of the holidays


I’ve started to see a trend in the holiday season, and this year is proving no exception.  You know the whole “holiday spirit” thing, and how people are supposedly friendlier and cheerier in general during the month of December? In the last few weeks I’ve had experiences on the bus, the subway, and in the post office, that make me doubt the overall pervasiveness of this fairy dusting of cheer. Sure it’s there for many, and real, but I’m seeing the other side of things too.

Last week, coming home from grocery shopping, I was toting my back-straining load of stuff from Trader Joes and waiting for the bus. The 4:30 pm crowds were as thick as usual, but not talking.  No pushing in line, no dramas, just quietly filing on the bus, and sitting silently.  None of the usual chatter.  No jostling, no flirting, no commentary.  The same thing’s been happening on the subway, with quieter than usual crowds, at least during my rush-hour forays into Manhattan for Fynn’s cello lessons.  Frenetic Salvation Army bell ringers on the streets, and camera-happy crowds straining to see the Rockefeller Plaza tree, but overall it feels like there’s some of that blanket-of-snow kind of quietness drifting through the streets.  It has a sadder tinge that underlies the quiet though.  Are you feeling it?

I’ve read how the holidays always see a spike in suicide rates, and I don’t doubt it.  The expectations are hard to avoid: happy family dinners, parties, gifts, performances … even if you don’t want to participate in any of those things, the trappings are all over, staring you in the face.  Missing those who’ve died in the past year tends to peak now too, weaving a thread of sorrow through it all.  I seem to be feeling that wave of disappointments and hurts when I’m out in public lately, it’s part of the silence.  Tiredness, quietness, loneliness.  The percentage of my city that isn’t “feeling it” is on my mind. 

I’m wavering myself, between looking forward to visitors, stressing about schedules, and wondering if I’ve done ‘enough’, whatever that mythical mark is.  I know though that one of the things my boys want the most is time together playing.  It’s simple, but they’re the happiest if I spend an hour on the floor playing lego, or suggest a family game night.  They don’t care about the dinner or the tidiness, and just want to be with me relaxing, not me serving.  I’m hoping to give them that gift, I know it will do me good too. 

Douglas asked me yesterday why they were still selling trees on the street.  My explanation that some people’s tradition was to buy a tree Christmas Eve surprised him, as he’d forgotten that Christmas hadn’t come yet!  He remembered the night we got and trimmed the tree as Christmas, and subconsciously thought it was over.  Point taken.  If our only holiday tradition (or expectation) is that we spend time together as a family, I’m happy with that.