by Gina Barreca Ph.D.
You don’t have to jingle anybody’s bells if you’re not in the mood.
- Not everyone needs to celebrate publicly, loudly, or en masse to feel connected.
- Sending your regrets doesn’t mean you’re depressed or unkind. You can choose how best to use your time.
- If you feel you need to do what is unpleasant for you in order to please others, examine your motives.
- You’re doing just fine if you find enjoyment in your own company; sometimes a holiday is just a regular day.
I’m not a big-time holiday person, and I’m not the only one. Sometimes an official holiday is simply a date on the calendar. Holidays, especially ones that make other people go wild, intimidate and unnerve me.
I get anxious when major holidays loom: Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter, the Fourth of July, and Thanksgiving unnerve me. (Halloween is the only one I genuinely enjoy, but I do it in moderation.)
Why are holidays an occasion of guilt? For many of us, it feels as if we are not keeping up our end of celebratory participation, attending suitable festivities, or doing them “right.” But who set the rules for what these occasions should mean?
Tradition can be terrific, but only when it’s done with authenticity. If you’re feeling trapped by old actions or habits that no longer suit you, it’s all right to leave the past in the past and set new paths for yourself.
Many years ago, when he was in his late sixties (as I am now), my devoted father begged off making the trip from Manhattan to northern Connecticut for Christmas, saying it was “just too exhausting” to make the journey. He was still working full-time (as I am now) and he explained that it would be a gift for him to be able to stay in his own apartment, go out to dinner somewhere local, and take it easy.
It was, despite his explanation, inexplicable to me. How could he refuse to be part of our usual big Christmas Eve “seven fishes” dinner and not be on hand to enjoy the lasagna (and turkey) that we were preparing for Christmas Day? How could he choose to be alone?
Not known for keeping my reactions to myself, I told him I felt abandoned. This was truly how I did feel, so I wasn’t manipulating or coercing him deliberately—I simply didn’t get it. “C’mon, Gina,” he said, his voice weary with the struggle of still parenting an adult child, “Sometimes a holiday is just a day. You’ll come to New York soon and we’ll have a nice dinner and enjoy ourselves. Okay?”
And that’s exactly what we did. The friends and family who were at my house that day spoke with my father on the phone, as did I, and he sounded as happy to be where he was as we were happy to be together. Although the group didn’t include his presence at the table, it all went beautifully.
I learned a lot that day.
Now I, too, have realized, especially as I age, that I’m content to stay home, make a good meal, and enjoy a quiet day.
Yes, others are out jingling their bells, and that’s wonderful. But if I send my regrets when I’m invited out for a large gathering around Hanukkah or Christmas, those close to me know that I’m not upset, or sad, or angry, or lonely. I’m choosing how best to use my time, and they know we’ll figure out a more low-key way to express our affection, admiration, respect, and enjoyment in one another’s company. We trust one another and ourselves; we’ll frame another winter’s day as a time to rejoice and give thanks.
Yes, our celebrations will need to be scheduled and placed on the calendar, but they doesn’t have to be on a date set by the calendar.
Deciding to treat ourselves to the best of times, as we define them, allows us to do what we want when we want to—and there’s no reason to feel judged or embarrassed by offering comfort and joy in ways that make us calm and happy.