Holiday Wars and the Big Black Marble

Norwegian Scream

 

The idea of the “war on Christmas” seems to be a favorite lightning rod to emphasize the cultural divide that becomes more tedious with each new debate.  Why there is offense taken for calling a series of holidays the holiday season has always been mysterious to me.  Coming from a family that was culturally both Christian and Jewish, I grew up with this time of year being mainly about generosity, traditions, and annoying songs and religious rituals but never had it hammered into me that it had any particular spiritual gravity.

So on that level I have never been at war with the holidays, but it has been a difficult time of year for me on several levels.  This week’s unveiling of the Norwegian Embassy’s tree in DC’s Union Square with a theme of Edvard Munch’s  The Scream seemed appropriate.  Surely some Christmas purists took offense, and Munch purists could also be insulted by having holiday stress being equated to a painting that was a reaction to far graver 20th century horrors.

I was able to enjoy the holiday season as a child, and even into early teen years, but it soon became a season of exaggerated expectations, travel nightmares, family and romantic flare ups.  November and December are busy and stressful times of year in most work places, but having worked a quarter of a century in the non-profit field it is even more stressful and often can seem centered around false expectations of year-end generosity and as if you haven’t received all the income by December 31 all is lost.

Most Novembers and Decembers I go through a roller coaster of feelings that usually calms down by the end of the year as it all settles into a nothingness and time to be alone the last two weeks of the year.  I have mostly negative memories of the holidays when I was in a romantic arrangement, usually marred by false expectations on both sides and a sense of disappointment that the supposed enchantment we were supposed to share wasn’t there.

It has actually been much easier in the decade or so I have spent it alone, no longer moping about being lonely but cherishing a time for reflection, recognizing the Winter Solstice (which I do consider to be THE holiday of the season and the only one that has spiritual significance to me.

I also tend to spend Thanksgiving alone since I am mostly vegetarian, avoid sugar and hate the other traditional foods of that holiday.  This year was a difficult Thanksgiving since I had a number of projects planned but managed to catch the cold bug that has been circulating early this season on the west coast.  I did managed to complete painting my bathroom as planned, so it was not a complete bust.  But I felt cheated.

I took today as a vacation day and managed to accomplish some of those goals, including buying and shipping all of my holiday presents.  I actually enjoy buying and giving presents.  I am not as good about receiving them.

But with each year, I find myself a little less at war with the holidays.  It’s not the time of year I go to see the family since I can’t justify the return on investment of traveling at this time of year.  I have managed to make the time of year meet my own expectations, which is mainly about the winter solstice, pushing into the dark all of the dark things I want to rid of my life of for the year.  This year I don’t even find myself need to embody Munch’s The Scream.  It feels more like a holiday of embracing the big black marble of the longest night.

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