The holidays are a bummer this year, and I’m ok with that. I’m ok with it being a bummer; I’m ok with being bummed out. I appreciate that my husband and I have enough privilege that our discomfort this year is about disappointments, not serious suffering. We are not food or housing insecure like far too many people; we aren’t yet mourning the loss of anyone close to us due to the pandemic. In that context, being bummed out is actually a pretty good place to be.
Buddhism teaches that expectation is the root of all suffering, and while I’m not a Buddhist, I see wisdom in this perspective, and I’m working on letting go of my expectations. Expectation management looks like telling Mom a few weeks before I was on winter break that I won’t be seeing her during my vacation. It looks like shipping gifts to friends with notes saying, “I miss you” rather than “I can’t wait to get together.” It looks like planning a tasty but modest meal for celebrating the holidays with my husband, alone in our house. We’re keeping low expectations to avoid regretting that it isn’t more.
That’s not to say that there aren’t real consequences to not getting together this year. I have family in poor health, family I never see except at the holidays and may not see for another year, and family with problematic lives I’d love to see face to face to KNOW they are actually ok. I am sad and concerned to miss this yearly check-in and opportunity for connection. But we agree that the risks outweigh the benefits, and I will not be seeing any of them in person until it is safe to do so.
I’m doing what I can to celebrate the little joys–the smells of fresh-baked, spiced lebkuchen cookies and boiling candied orange rinds, the glimmer of Christmas lights in puddles as I walk through the neighborhood, a quiet evening at home with my fireplace, my cats, and a puzzle. It’s a kind of mindfulness that I can get behind, being present and not wishing, hoping, yearning for more.
My goal isn’t to convince myself it’s all exactly as I would wish it to be; the lack of validation that can coincide with the forced seeking of silver-linings doesn’t make me feel better. I’m not a gratitude practice kind of person. That sort of list-making seems to make me focus on what’s missing rather than on what’s there. Instead, I’m acknowledging it, that it’s not quite right, that it’s not what I want, and that it’s still ok, good enough even.
My family is Danish-American, and Christmas Eve was traditionally the day we celebrated growing up, a day for a big family dinner and opening the presents under the tree. (Only stockings stuffed with treats from Santa to be enjoyed on Christmas morning.) Christmas won’t be that this year, it’s going to be a bit disappointing, and I’m fine with that. I hope you are able to be ok with your holidays, too, in whatever form they come. “Meh Christmas to all, and to all a good enough night.“
Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found making tins of homemade candies and cookies to send to her family, picking up heavy things, and putting them back down again in Portland, Oregon.