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.

Sound famil­iar?

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.

Happy hol­i­days.

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    Adra Fisher grew up in Winchester, moved away in her ear­ly 20s and returned a quar­ter of a cen­tu­ry lat­er. She enjoys all types of art and encour­ag­ing oth­ers to live creatively.