When the first holiday lights start being hung around town, or we hear the first Christmas song on the radio, or we are sitting under our favorite blanket and see the first Christmas commercial on television, we always have an emotion wash over us.
Sometimes that feeling is happy, warm and familiar. Sometimes it’s annoyance that this season has become so commercialized. And sometimes it’s stress that we already feel behind even though it’s only October and we do, in fact, have oodles of time to get it all in.
And for many, there is a twinge of sadness that starts in our throat, bubbles down our chest, and sinks into our heart.
This season is full of reminders of people we’ve loved, people we miss, experiences we’ve had and aren’t able to experience any longer. Sometimes those reminders eclipse all the magic we feel this season should bring.
Some of us drive by a restaurant where we used to share a warm meal with an old lover during the holidays. We see the exterior lit up and it makes us deeply nostalgic; the kind of nostalgia that makes our eyes water and makes the street lights blurry.
Some of us watch a Christmas special on television that we used to watch every year with someone who is no longer with us. We think watching it will relieve some of the angst and it does, but it doesn’t.
Some of us can’t bear to wrap gifts on our own, or go shopping without that person who used to make things so special around this time of year.
Some of us are far from home and all the merriment around us makes us long for specific smells and sounds and hugs from certain people that we can’t have. We want to embrace the season and feel happy, but we simply can’t.
Some of us are divorced and are co-parenting with our ex and now have to split time, traditions and special moments which used to be shared under one roof. We still hang the lights and play the music then walk upstairs to get our slippers from our room and catch a chill from the emptiness when our kids aren’t around to share it.
The holidays are supposed to be the happiest time of the year. The time from Thanksgiving to the New Year is when we are supposed to feel full of gratitude and magic and peace.
We are supposed to look outside ourselves and give. We should be present and visit neighbors and friends with armloads of cookies and spread joy.
We should be thinking of others and throwing cheer their way.
But some of us don’t feel like spreading cheer. Some of us feel so far from content right now. Some of us can’t emotionally let the holidays sink in and bring us the peaceful feeling we want to feel from the season because our hearts are too sore from lost loves and parents who have passed and kids who no longer spend the whole holiday with us.
The reminders hurt too much.
The nostalgia hurts too much.
The fact that we aren’t able to be present in the moment and make things nice for those around us because we aren’t enjoying this time makes us feel inadequate.
We all have this preconceived notion that we are supposed to be happy during this time of year when Salvation Army bells are ringing and carols are being sung and when there are Christmas pageants and holiday parties to attend.
We try things like making the cookies we used to make with our mother or grandmother thinking it will somehow capture some of the old energy it used to bring, then it leaves us feeling dry and hung over and like we don’t even want to try.
We shouldn’t feel like we are supposed to be happy this time of year if it’s not our truth. Navigating our way around happy families while shopping, or passing 10 people with Christmas trees tied to the top of their car might feel more like a dull ache you can’t get rid of no matter how hard you try to buffer.
In December, we are missing people, times in our lives and places we used to go. Let’s face it, with a side of twinkle lights and eggnog and traditions, it used to feel downright majestic.
We don’t only miss how we felt when those people and experiences were near, we miss who we were.
The holidays can be a time of reflection and remembrance and reminders of the way life used to be.
It’s okay if you are sad right now. You aren’t alone. Be gentle with yourself, honor your thoughts and feelings, reach out to those who understand and don’t be afraid to say “no” to an invitation if it feels too heavy for you to accept.
The last thing you need is to feel guilty because you are struggling this time of year.