Holidays are anniversaries of a sort. We’re celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Winter Solstice/Saturnalia/Festivus like we do every year, by getting together with our families, eating huge meals, watching TV, and giving gifts. These holiday get-togethers are usually hectic and always chock full o’ nostalgia—we miss those family members and friends who are no longer with us and we reminisce about the events of past holiday seasons. We can’t help it. It’s either something in the air or those tasty gingerbread lattes that everyone mainlines this time of year.
At the risk of sounding like a bad Hallmark commercial, as I stood in a favorite coffee shop debating the merits of hot spiced cider versus said gingerbread latte, I came to the conclusion that life is short. This silly decision shouldn’t have required the amount of time and brainpower I was giving it. So, I’ve decided to make my new year’s resolution early this year—or late, depending on how you feel about Rosh Hashanah. It goes something like this: Don’t waste time sweating things like mortgages, waist circumference, and whether anyone at future class reunions will notice my ever-deepening crow’s feet. (Of course they will. And they’ll all have their own sets, too. Oh, the joys of aging.) Enjoy the time here because it is a precious thing that should be spent it in the company of loved ones and friends. Engage in enjoyable tasks, not tedious ones.
Why the platitudes, you may ask? You can chalk it up to holiday-related nostalgia, but, as with many things, you can also blame Facebook. Thanks to a status update by one of my cousins, I was recently thinking about the last words of famous people. It got me curious, so I googled some of them. You’d be surprised how many pages are devoted to the subject. By and large, there were three themes: One, I’ve been a bad, bad person and am going straight to hell, so don’t bother praying for me (aka Repent Sinners! The end is near!). Two, I’m going to say something funny because I fancy myself a renegade and humor at this point seems inappropriate enough to cement my irreverent persona (see: Humphrey Bogart, Oscar Wilde, Dylan Thomas). Three, most applicable here, life is so short that I would give anything I possess to have just a few more minutes with the people I love. My dad falls into this latter category, so I find it especially poignant. (Sidenote: cancer sucks.)
This is what was on my mind while searching for just the right toy for my kids this year. I’m sure I’m not the only person on the planet to think about death while in a toy store at Christmas time, but really—what‘s the point? Is it worth giving yourself an ulcer worrying about whether Toys R Us will have enough of this year’s cool toy so your kid(s) won’t curse your name on Xmas morning? And what exactly does that teach your kids? What’s the point of walking around in a Norman Rockwell-inspired fog of idealized family life when in reality the same idealized set of people tend to drive you past the point of rationality in a mere 20 minutes? Of course you’ll have a profanity-laced meltdown a la Clark Griswold in “Christmas Vacation” if you set yourself up like this. Who was it who said that TV is the only thing that keeps families from killing each other over the holidays? Whoever it was was surely a modern day sage. (Now that I think about it, perhaps it was Bart Simpson. Yay, Simpsons writers.).
So, why do we delude ourselves into thinking materialism or notions of perfection are remotely important? And why do they always enter the forefront of our collective mind this time of year in particular? I realize these questions have been asked ad nauseum—Miracle on 34th Street, anyone?—and, because I’m not terribly clever, I’m asking them one more time. Seriously. So I’ve decided to dare my readers (all three of you—Hi, Mom!) to make this holiday season as stress-free as possible. Find the thing that drives you craziest about the season and neutralize it.
Hate buying useless crap for people just because it’s the holiday season and you think you have to? I dare you not to do it. Maybe buy one really nice gift, or, better yet, make something for your loved ones (DIY!! DIY!!) and leave it at that. It will be much more meaningful to the recipient(s) than a truckload of junk du jour and you will escape the mall zombies and subsequent stress, not to mention the amount of money and resources you’ll save on wrapping accoutrements. Your relatives will thank you and so will Mother Nature.
Hate cooking a huge meal for everyone—or worse, cooking a huge meal and then having people gripe about it? I dare you not to do it. Start your own tradition of pizza and/or Chinese take-out at holiday gatherings. I know I give thanks for my local restaurants all the time, why should the holidays be any different? Or have each of your guests bring a favorite food for dinner. Sure, you may end up with an entire table of donuts, goldfish crackers, and peanut butter cups, but is that really such a bad thing? At the very least it will be memorable, and isn’t that the point?
My family always wanted the “perfect” holiday. The problem is that such a thing doesn’t exist, hence the quote marks. Mom and Dad may have wanted me to remember fondly the Cabbage Patch doll for which they engaged in fisticuffs with other suburban parents when I was 7, the perfectly-roasted turkey at each Thanksgiving, and the lack of televised football at family shin digs each holiday season, and I do remember that stuff. But I also remember them freaking out about charred potatoes au gratin (Dear God! Now what will we serve our guests?!?), a tarnished silver coffee service set (Mom’s gonna be pissed! It never looked like this at her house!), and post-party stains on the rug (Goddamn that kid! He doesn’t understand the value of anything!!) Why? In the grand scheme, did any of that really matter? My dad’s last words were about how much he loved me and my mom, not about how much he wished he’d polished up that sugar bowl for Grandma’s coffee on Christmas Eve 1982.
So I dare you to have fun this holiday season. I dare you to let go of the stress and create something meaningful. Enjoy each other’s company as best you can. This is what I want for my kids. They will be getting toys on Christmas, but only a couple. They will be getting a tasty meal for Thanksgiving—sans turkey carcass as we’re vegetarians. And most importantly, they will be getting sane parents who show them that we care about THEM, not about stuff. I dare you to start your own traditions this holiday season—whatever you find most meaningful—and free yourself from needless pressure and corresponding regret. Enjoy yourself, because life is short.