I am a Grinch. I hate to say it, but I despise the holiday season. The appearance of peppermint bark on store shelves twists my stomach faster than the vile phrase “group project.” The bleak winter months are filled with expensive, hollow displays of love and prosperity that leave my heart and wallet glaringly empty. The worst thing is that I hate myself for having these feelings. Why is that? Why doesn’t my Thanksgiving table look like the centerfold of a Martha Stewart magazine? Why do we torture ourselves every single year?
There are dueling perceptions of the holiday season. The first view is that of the Hallmark season. People who hold this view attempt to fill their holiday with all of the innocent, conflict-free trappings of a Hallmark movie that is so sappy-sweet you have diabetes by the end of the opening credits.
The opposing view is, at best, framed as pragmatic and, at worst, said to be the symptomatology of a family life that Freud would kill to get his repressed hands on. This view paints the Hallmark hiatus as an unrealistic ideal imposed on us as children, with powerful visual representations given by whitewashed superficial movies and fairytales used to sell us crap we do not need.
It’s not strange that you have mixed feelings about having dinner with your rampantly racist grandfather and the aunt that never fails to hone in on the status of your “cute little love handle.”
The belief holds that the Instagram-filtered depiction of holidays has created an unattainable ideal that causes a perpetual sense of inadequacy. This most “miraculous” of times is an unfortunately over-inflated and over-commercialized cyclical hell of forced family fun time, mall trips, awkward silences over dinner and having to explain your theater major to an uncle who will never understand.
Unfortunately, a lot of people hold both views. We hate the holidays, but we all secretly long to have a winter wonderland. The consequence is a pervasive internal torture that manifests itself in an array of bizarre, stress-induced behavior. For example, when my mom makes sugar cookies at 1 a.m. It’s not strange that you have mixed feelings about having dinner with your rampantly racist grandfather and the aunt that never fails to hone in on the status of your “cute little love handle.”
Extended family is, by its nature, weird. These are people who you are obligated to love but only come into contact under the unnatural pretenses of special occasions like Thanksgiving. Don’t blame yourself for being creeped out by an uncle; the real issue you should be focusing on (besides never being alone with that uncle) is what you can do to minimize the anguish of the season. If you find yourself dreading the holidays like me, don’t aim to enjoy them. Hallmark is a lie. Instead, make more realistic goals, like getting to know one of your relatives a little better, or teaching a younger cousin a cool skill.
If you become so fixated on making a memory fit for the cover of a greeting card, then it is easy to miss the whole holiday.
If you feel buried by the avalanche of all the shopping you need to do, talk to your family to see if you can have a less commercial holiday where you have to make some presents. It also helps to have at least one sane member of your family that you can confide in. My sister and I like to go for nice, long walks after we witness some of the world’s most passive aggressive fights about proper potato-mashing form.
If you become so fixated on making a memory fit for the cover of a greeting card, then it is easy to miss the whole holiday. My favorite tradition is hanging out on the couch and making fun of classic holiday movies with my family.
Invent your own traditions. The people who make silly movies have no idea what they are doing either, so don’t conform to their arbitrary definition of what the holidays “should” look like.
Emily Gardner is a Confusion Corner columnist who has a complicated relationship with the Hallmark Channel.