Happy Holidays? That depends on who you ask. I started writing this column a couple of weeks ago, the intent being to lighten things up with an entertaining piece for WinCity News & Views readers hungry for some holiday humor.
Then, our fellow Kentuckians in the western part of the state were slammed by a massive storm system that obliterated Mayfield, ransacked Bowling Green, and left Dawson Springs in shambles. Over 75 people are known to be dead, and countless others are traumatized — stripped of any shred of emotional security for what may well be the rest of their lives.
Such a tragedy, so close to home, certainly gives us pause and a renewed appreciation for the saying “there but for the grace of God go I.”
And yet, Christmas will arrive in just a matter of days.
While it’s hard to feel much like celebrating in the wake of recent events, celebrate we will, perhaps with even more gusto because we have been so graphically reminded that we’ve got it pretty good here in Clark County.
For me — and this year especially — Christmas is a stiff emotional cocktail best enjoyed in moderation. I’ll take mine with a generous shot of gratitude and a perspective chaser, please. I might even have two.
The holiday season is such a mixed bag. At no other time of the year is the line between the haves and the have-nots more apparent. The divide is always there, of course, but Christmas seems to underscore it in bright red ink. And the recent disaster in Western Kentucky makes it all the more intense.
Over several decades, I’ve watched the secular side of Christmas devolve into Thanksgiving’s bullying big brother: advertisers exhort us to plunge deeper into debt, movies brainwash us into magical thinking, even many charities and other helping institutions use the season to drum up donations. And why not? All but the tightest purse strings tend to loosen around the holidays. (Never mind that giving to others is good no matter what month it is.)
We basically lose our minds every December. Recovery, financially and emotionally, can take months. And some of us simply can’t afford it.
But hark, I bear glad tidings: It doesn’t have to be that way. I’ve learned through experience that it’s possible to enjoy a kinder, gentler holiday season. Peace on earth may be a long shot, but goodwill toward men — also women, children, animals, and our dear Mother Earth — is a heck of a lot easier to muster when the stress levels come down.
The Christmas crazy train runs once a year and it rolls awfully fast, but it’s possible to jump off without sustaining major injuries. I took the leap a few years ago and only got a little banged up. You can do it too, if you so desire.
For those with no such inclination, don’t mind me. I know lots of people who love everything about the holidays and would change absolutely nothing. These folks have my utmost respect. If it weren’t for our many holiday enthusiasts, December in Winchester would be a lot less cheery. I love driving around looking at Christmas lights and hearing Christmas carols sung by people with near-perfect pitch. I appreciate and admire Clark County’s hardy Christmas-keepers.
I’m just no longer one of them. I tried to be — for many years — but simply couldn’t keep it up.
Around the time I hit 60, my eyesight was worsening, but I started developing a sort of x‑ray vision. I could see through things that used to completely dominate my field of vision — like The Christmas Myth. Not to be confused with The Christmas Story, which is sacred, beautiful and, for many, “the reason for the season,” The Christmas Myth is insidious and draining (but oh-so sparkly and seductive). Like mistletoe, it infiltrates with such stealth that we are often consumed by it before we even realize we are its unwitting host.
It has many versions, The Christmas Myth, and we tend to personalize it — which makes it especially internalized and difficult to root out. My version is different from yours, but there is generally a common theme, something along the lines of: in order to have a good Christmas, I have to do x, y, and z.
My personal Christmas Myth was full of exhausting requirements. I won’t bore you with every detail, but among my Christmas “to-dos” were long car rides across multiple state lines, chopping down trees with rusty axes, cooking my brains out, quixotic shopping trips, and pithy handwritten notes on every holiday card I sent (often to people I had little or no contact with 11 months out of the year). For decades, every December I dutifully carried out my Christmas Myth requirements. And at times, I actually enjoyed it — when I could manage to stay awake.
But with age comes a shifting of priorities, not to mention decreased stamina and a lower tolerance for nonsense. Expectations — my own, and especially those of others — seem more expendable, less set in stone. Some things that used to matter greatly just don’t anymore. My new artificial tree, for example, looks fantastic, and friends and family have gotten used to my homemade cards and offerings — sort of.
December 25 comes once a year — every year — no matter what we do or don’t do. A gift we can give ourselves is to examine our personal Christmas myths and consider how they mesh with our values. Are we truly spending our time, energy, and money in meaningful ways?
It’s OK to stop and reflect, to change and adjust our Christmas expectations and behaviors. We may encounter some resistance along with way, especially from those who most benefit from keeping us in our traditional holiday roles. But in the end, it’s our story to write. And as with any good piece of writing, thoughtful revision only makes it better.