Small Life, Slow Life: On Feeling Ambivalent About the Holidays.


My parents split up this year.

It’s not something I ever wanted to talk about here because I respect their privacy, and my own privacy. So for that reason, I won’t discuss any of the details at all, other than the fact that it has been extremely hard on not just my siblings and me but my parents as well. It was done as amicably as possible; unfortunately, that still doesn’t prevent pain on all sides.

The main portion of the painful stuff has all been worked through by now. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t throw a few tantrums before my wedding, because, let’s face it, our own weddings have a way of making us think the entire universe should center around us. But surprisingly, we got through the wedding and corresponding events peacefully and the pictures turned out lovely.

No — it’s the holidays I’ve been feeling weird about. And for many of you, whether you’ve had the loss of a relationship (of any kind) this year or the death of someone close to you…or maybe if you just haven’t experienced your favorite year ever, you’re likely experiencing something similar.

I wrote about this a little bit in Small Life, Slow Life: How to Find Beauty in the Pain. That holiday season without C was definitely the worst, ever. Every Christmas song and twinkling light felt like a dagger to the chest. This year, it’s nothing close to that, but I noticed I’m feeling a certain ambivalence toward the holidays that isn’t usually there, showing up mostly in the form of internal questions, like “Will we have to spend the whole day shuttling to different houses?” “How do I divide the time fairly?” “What are my brother and sister going to do?” “My apartment is too small to have everyone over here.”

I get it — I’m nervous about the unknown. This is the first year we won’t all be together. Instead of one house to visit, there are now three (because I’m married and have his parents to consider too).

C’s family and my family are very different. In C’s family, they prefer a constant stream of togetherness, punctuated with dinners and phone calls weekly — that kind of regular closeness. My family members and I can sometimes go a while without talking to each other, but we save up all of that punctuated, regular love for the BIG days — birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas — when we go ALL out and spend the entire day together. There are traditions (deviled eggs + Twilight Zone marathon on Thanksgiving, cinnamon rolls and tamales on Christmas) and a warm familiarity of getting the rare chance to be together all day long. Even when I lived in Japan, I made the long (and expensive!) trip home so we could be together for the holidays.

In my usual family tradition, there are so many presents that we can't walk through the living room!

In my usual family tradition, there are so many presents that we can’t walk through the living room!

Now, it won’t be like that. And more than anxious, I’m a little ambivalent. Feeling a little sorry for myself? Shameful to admit, but maybe. Does any of this have anything to do with me? No.

My dear friend Chelsea was the one who pointed out that my last holidays together with my family unit may be over now, but that my FIRST holidays together with my new family unit begin this year, with my husband. And that means that brand new traditions can be born, and that because we’re married adults now, we can create anything we want for how the day will go.

If you’re feeling anxiety about the holidays this year, I would encourage you to find the silver lining and remember that you have the power to create your holidays however you want them to be. Maybe that means you spend Christmas in a shelter dishing out food to those less fortunate, or you visit a senior home and spend time with people who have no families to visit them. Maybe that means you create new special holiday memories with friends, that include wine, snacks and a Sex and the City marathon. Or maybe (like I did one year), you ring in the holidays doing something TOTALLY unlike you, like spending it at a Buddhist temple. (I really did do that one year, because I couldn’t stand the thought of watching the ball drop on New Year’s Eve all alone. I’ll have to write about that another time — it was really liberating and weird at the same time.)

When you’re feeling that tug of resistance, or the numbness of apathy, or general malaise toward the pressure surrounding the holidays, ask yourself:

1. What’s coming up for me that’s uncomfortable right now?
2. Instead of this feeling, what do I really want?
3. Is what I really want possible? (The answer to this question is usually “YES!” If it truly isn’t possible, follow up with, “What’s the next closest thing that I really want? How can I create something closer to what I really want in this moment?”)
4. Who do I need to notify (if anyone) about the change of plans?

Whatever you end up doing, please know that it’s okay to feel ambivalent about the holidays. From October on, we spend all this time gearing up for these very select few days and there’s a lot of pressure for them to be OMGTHEMOSTSPECIALDAYSEVER!!!1!!!11!

But you know what? Sometimes they can just be okay. Sometimes they can not be a big deal.

And sometimes, you can screw tradition and make them however you want them.

The holidays are yours to create. I wish you happiness during them!


4 thoughts on “Small Life, Slow Life: On Feeling Ambivalent About the Holidays.

  1. Thanks for sharing your raw/no holds back thoughts Jen. It makes me realize that amidst all the “happy” pictures and Xmas plans posted on Facebook, that I’m not feeling the way I do all alone. And that it’s okay to do something out of the ordinary sometimes.
    I was embarrassed to admit this a few years ago when people would ask what I did for the holidays that year… But now there’s something liberating about admitting my own holiday plans one year. And it turned out to be one of the best Xmas eves I ever had.
    My own parents had ended their relationship that year, and my sister was newly pregnant..I was feeling behind in life, I didn’t feel like dealing with all of the uncertainty and questions and feelings that came with it, especially during the holidays.
    Since we weren’t doing our traditions that year, I didnt want to spend it sitting at my lonely freezing apt….and I was hungry. Xmas eve… What’s open in town other than gas stations where I live? Denny’s. Yep that’s right lol. I went to Denny’s . As I drove there I was feeling sorry for myself and feeling jealous of friends who had those “perfect” xmas’s. But when I left? I was beaming. It had been such an awesome experience. I expected to go in alone eat my food and leave.

    When I walked in, it was the most packed I had ever seen it. There were so many people alone, that they ended up sitting together at tables so other people wouldn’t have to wait as long. I ended up meeting so many interesting people and having conversations and laughing so hard that I completely forgot about feeling sorry for my situation. By the time I left, 4 hours had passed!

    Some people may think that’s an odd way to spend a holiday, but thank you for letting me know that I’m not alone in my thoughts and that it’s okay to be different and start your own traditions outside of what people say is “normal”.

    Despite everything going on in your life, your friend had great advice and I hope you and C have a wonderful holiday season starting your own new traditions together!


    • This is SUCH a beautiful story. I am so glad you shared. I’m a little jealous of your Denny’s story — that sounds like so much fun! My adventure at the Buddhist temple on New Year’s wasn’t as fun but I did meet some really neat people!

      Thank you, truly, so much for sharing this. ❤

  2. Pingback: Small Life, Slow Life: 2015 Reading Challenge + What I’ve Been Up to Lately! | small life, slow life

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