With the world struggling to flatten the curve of the second wave of the pandemic, just as it threatens to become a tsunami, a lot of people are wondering 'what is going to happen to Christmas?'
As I wrote earlier, about alternative festive Halloween options, the way it is done is not the way it has always been done.
Let me get back to that later . . .
Let me start with the heart of the issue: disappointment, frustration, the unknown future, dread, annoyance, powerlessness, and worry.
These are the reasons people struggle with change, even wanted change. They are the reasons why unwanted change, and unpredictability, are so deeply distressing.
People reach out for firm guidance, assurance, and when they can't find that, any strong voice that seems convincing or even just convinced, so they can stop feeling this terrible sense that they're floating free of familiar anchors.
Some of those familiar anchors might actually be quite distressing in themselves: annual repetitions of family disputes; repeating patterns of criticism or not fitting in; hope for a joyful Christmas crushed with disappointment of still having the same messed up family as last year; adding to the debt load while hoping to feel free, happy, wealthy by being surrounded with new stuff while also dreading the bills set to arrive shortly after. . . but familiarity and predictability go a long way toward making people feel at least somewhat in control of their lives, even when what they can predict is unpleasant.
It is remarkable how quickly people can grab hold of something that feels free, happy, wealthy (or safe, which is what this is really about), no matter how new, and put it into the 'just like always' column.
A comment Terry Pratchett made in his satire of Christmas, The Hogfather, is along the lines of 'it's astonishing how adept humans are at making unique, new and unusual things into "the norm" when everywhere else and 5 seconds ago--galactically-speaking-- they didn't exist at all.' There is, somewhere embedded deep in the human brain, the idea that anything they are now used to is 'how it's always been' with the natural and inevitable corollary, 'and how it should always remain.'
If you have not yet done so, it is interesting to take a look at Dylan Thomas's A Child's Christmas in Wales... if you can find the short version, or the 15 minute radio version. It's a wee bit tedious when longer...
The story is the poet's own memories of the experience of growing up in a city in Wales, and how Christmas seemed to him then. I think he has captured the unrequited excitement of Christmas Eve, as the gifts of Christmas morning fail to live up to the spectacular hopes and dreams of any 8-year-old in the middle classes, along with the yawning, endless, dry and overheated dolldrums of waiting for all the things everyone waits for on Christmas. Primarily, 'when is the fun coming?'
There is, somewhere embedded deep in the human brain, the idea that anything they are now used to is 'how it's always been' with the natural and inevitable corollary, 'and how it should always remain.'
In a time before being able to go the movies (did you know people did that? I found out a few years ago that it's the #1 ticket sales day for movie theatres in the entire year --and I don't think I ever knew of a single person who ever went to a movie on Christmas. Amazing...) and before there were nine ways to stream content, and only a couple of stations broadcasting on the fairly-new radio (with the adults always hogging the content) ... what a child in the mid-1920s got to do for Christmas day was open a handful of gifts, and wait. Wait for relatives to visit (or for time to go visit relatives.) Wait for them to open their gifts, and wait for the few they may have brought the family. Wait for dinner, which in a perfect world for a child would happen before 2pm, so at least the interminable waiting for the events of the day could end. Waiting for someone who wanted to play a game. Waiting for the moment to demonstrate the skill, recite the poem, sing or whatever was your talent for the show. Waiting for the grandpa or uncle or other who might slip a few coins into your hands, like a drug dealer, so your parents wouldn't find out and confiscate them. Waiting to be freed to go out and play, and then waiting for your friends to be freed from their family celebrations as well.
In A Christmas Carol, the ubiquitous work of the season that, single-handedly, practically invented the traditions of the season, the shopping is done on the way home from work on Christmas Eve, after which the tree (not the house) was decorated. The cooking is mostly done in the morning, the celebration is almost entirely restricted to a few hours of time off (for the lower economic stratum) and to dancing, performing, games and dining (for the upper stratum.) Gifts were rare, and almost only for children or between young people courting.
In both cases, Christmas was a house-by-house affair, for almost everyone ... with stray folks who couldn't go home, or had no family left, invited to join on the day. Having 'all of the family' home for Christmas even for just the day was uncommon, as the (see above) staff in wealthy homes were fully at work for the day. Hauling kids and gifts all over the city (or country) throughout the holidays just wasn't done --no one who could afford it would have thought of it, and no one else could take that kind of time off doing the 'getting something to eat for tomorrow' for that long. Party season lasting from November until mid-January? No one thought of it, nor could most afford it.
Back to what we're going through now:
What people struggle with, especially when they want something to be really special, 'for the season' or 'for the kids' or, probably most accurately, 'for making up for all the horrible experiences in this season in the past that still haunt' --what people really struggle with is that list of big emotions I started with:
- the unknown (unknowable) future
There is little more annoying, frustrating, dreadful, worrisome and annoying than a virus we can't see that we can't yet prevent, that requires us to act like it's 1720: when all dancing is done slowly, with gloves on, and at a significant distance; when people bowed and curtsied and; when all dating was done with chaperones to keep strangers far enough away from one another until the symptoms could be seen (to be present or absent.) Back when anyone with the financial ability to do so stayed as far away from crowded spaces as possible, 'your tired, your poor, your huddled masses' where disease was rampant... and disfiguring, disabling and deadly.
So... we all have all these emotions, and we don't like it. Then what?
You know what I think is probably more important than anything else right now? A big ol' whine festival.
Whine Goes With Everything
It isn't how we want it, and it isn't fair at all, and we don't have to like it, and we don't want it anyhow... Acknowledging that --all of that up there, the dread, the disappointment, the expectation of more disappointment to come, the frustration, the worry, the powerlessness, the annoyance of it all-- is really all there is for it.
Rather than some smarmy 'make the best of it' or 'it is what it is' (as if 'it' could ever be something it wasn't!) the way to get past the feelings that we're feeling isn't to 'let it go' but to 'let it be.' Just as it is, allow it. Be petty and selfish and annoyed and irritated and all the other things we genuinely feel. Make a night of it, with a group of friends over zoom, and bitch it all out without censorship or trying to make anyone 'feel better.' Because that doesn't work anyhow. Unleash it, and really feel how it feels, right now.
Write a journal about how it feels, what it reminds you of, who you want to blame for it. Or make a dark and terrible sketch (badly probably works better than skilfully) of how it feels. Then tear up whatever you've made --into tiny pieces, or light it on fire, or scrabble it all up into tiny hard balls. Scream an obscene song about it as you dance around the forest alone in the dark, scaring away the bears, or lie down on the floor and cry for a while. Tell a teddy bear or a pet all about it. Let it out.
While all those icky, unwanted feelings are held in our bodies, what we can't do is be creative or inspired to find a new and different way to make the next few years (or the rest of your life) 'just like always, only better now.' Let them out. Then look around and see what's left.
Diane Young says (4-Dec-2020):
Whine, moan, gripe, pout, cry, scream, yell.....well, that's done. Now I can go back to enjoying the moment....