Have Yourself an Indulgently Sad Little Christmas (If That's What You Want)

All I want this Christmas is for my mother to not have a meltdown at some point. That, and a ukulele.
I used to hate Christmas when I was growing up. Holidays in general, actually. For that reason, when thinking about writing a holiday piece, I was overjoyed at the idea of finally opening up a discussion on the true meaning of the season: the reality that it’s really, really depressing. It’s the painfully universal fact that dare not speak it’s really obvious name.
I was unemployed last Christmas when I went home to spend two weeks with the collection of unique individuals I call my family. I spent the majority of that time in panic that 2011 would be my year of wellfare – unlike 2012, which I’ve calmly accepted as my potential year of welfare. Of course that anxiety led to playing episode 84 of the 126-part miniseries that airs in my head: Your Life Is Worthless, You Failure: “The Christmas Episode”.  The result was a self-pitying mess who wasn’t much of a joy to be around.
Same goes for my sister, who failed to properly read the directions on her European birth control she’d started taking while studying in London. NOT meant to be taken every day, so many unneeded hormones coursed through her veins that it was kind of like hanging around the Incredible Hulk for two weeks. Except instead of exploding into violent, gamma induced, muscly rages, she slept 14 hours a day and cried sporadically throughout Christmas morning. My favorite moment was when she acknowledged that she was crying for no reason, then cried over how upset she was that she was crying for no reason, yelling, “I’M SO SAD AND I DON’T KNOW WHY” while opening presents. Her favorite moment was when she turned to me on the train back from our NYC New Year’s Extravaganza to proclaim how she knew this was going to be an amazing year for us and I responded with, “I think my entire life is a lie.”
From the last week of December to the first week of January, there were moods, mood swings, mood adjusters and everyone sobbed at least once at a completely inappropriate time (except for my father, who just teared a little while watching Up, which is totally apropos). That said, last Christmas was, quite possibly, the best I’d ever had.

Mom wouldn’t share my sentiment, however, and rightfully so. Because you know who really has a right to hate Christmas? Moms. It probably had to do with the fact that in our culture, if you’re a woman and have had children, the celebration of everyone’s yule time is suddenly your responsibility until you die. Wrap the presents, take care of Christmas dinner, clearly be the only one putting  any effort into decorating the tree and dammit, you’d better be smiling on the happiest of all holy days. As if taking care of two absurdly emotional, grown children wasn’t enough for my mom, she’s made to carry around the sociologically enforce burden that all matriarchs are dealt. The flipside of “work” in a patriarchal society: The man brings home the bacon and the little lady is in charge of all the pleasantries, i.e. vacations/holidays, and therefore everyone else’s pleasantness.

It’s a moot archetype these days, since both parents in the family unit typically work, and yet it’s still followed more often than not. For her, as I’m sure is true with many mothers, the result is usually an inability to actually enjoy said slaved-over festivities. Most mother’s completely forget about themselves this time of year, to the point where their only joy is in making sure everyone else is having a good time. My mom’s biggest gripe with me when I’m home is that I never give her a rider of “fun” activities I demand in return for my love. I need to command snowboarding, carriage rides and hand carved ice sculptures or else she can’t fulfill her maternal destiny.

For this reason, it really drove her nuts when I kept insisting that I wanted to do whatever she wanted, whatever would make her happy. “DAMMIT, Misha,” she yelled, “You’d tell me you’d be happy wading in POOP if that’s all I offered!” throwing her hands up in the air and giving my sisters and I our next running gag for the season.  For the rest of our visit, we kept asking her when we were going to wade in poop: Mom, you promised we could wade in poop this Christmas. We don’t want to go ice skating, when do we get to wade in poop? You never let us wade in poop anymore. This is the worst Christmas ever.

That probably didn’t help her stress levels any, but what finally broke her was our first annual and probably only game of White Elephant/Yankee Swap/Chinese Auction if you’re seriously racist. After spending countless hours trying to pick out the perfect gifts for almost everyone playing even though that goes completely against the point of the game, my mother happened to receive the one dud gift in the pile – a small book entitled 1001 Things To Do With Duct Tape and a jumbo roll of duct tape that was intended for our father. Reviewing the events on my Flip cam, you can spot the exact moment where her manic laughter  shifts into sorrowful, exhausted tears. It’s sort of the best home movie ever. I know that may read as if we’re awful, terrible children – and there’s a strong possibility that we are – but there was something great in seeing her cry over duct tape midst our own emotional breakdowns… outside of the obvious comedic value.

Growing up, being home for the holidays was all about being happy. Not actually happy, but pretending to be as much as possible. My family was slightly more high maintenance back then and the idea was always maintained that the holidays were a time for joy – an emotion to be felt as well as enforced. Sadness was to be compounded with guilt, for selfishly bringing down the carefully planned festivities with your awful self indulgent feelings – how disappointed baby Jesus would be. Unfortunately, I’m sure it’s common, and ironic, to be told you’re ‘ruining it for everyone’ when this time of year makes you blue.

It’s a validly cobalt time to be alive: Christmas is a time of materialism and togetherness, New Year’s is all about reflecting on the time gone by. The season can lend itself to reminding you that you’re broke or lonely or not as far along in life as you’d hoped or probably going to enter your 30s still paying off your student loans, and your job is slowly killing you and if your wisdom teeth don’t stop coming in you’re going to need to get them removed and how they hell am I suppose to do that without dental insurance?

One of the biggest reasons that yule time depression begets guilt is that everyone else has a big stupid smile on their face. Maybe it would help if you knew how fake it was, or maybe you would just feel worse that you can’t muster the energy to fake it too. Or, of course, they could be sincerely happy – but they’re probably not. So after flying across the country and halfway across the world just to mope over our financial state/uterus, my sister and I couldn’t have been more pleased to watch our mother self-destruct a little, if only because she was now one of us, somebody who allows themselves to say screw this noise, I’m having a bad day – and yeah, on Christmas. She was able to give up the ghost and admit that how exhausting it is to be a mom on Christmas and that made it easier for me to admit that it being December 25th didn’t mean I could just stop thinking about all my problems for the day – and my sister was able to admit she never read the back of the box on her birth control.

My Mom deserves to cry over duct tape on Christmas. We ALL deserve to cry over duct tape on Christmas if we need to. If the non-religious meaning of the holidays is family and togetherness, that unity should transcend the assumptions and high expectations that come with this time of year. I love that I can proudly say I was depressed this time last year and that I was lucky enough to belong to a family where I’m made to feel that it’s alright to be sad regardless of what day it is, because my feelings are valid. And I suppose, in turn, I taught my mother the same lesson by contributing to slowly breaking her.
It’s for completely uncouth reasons such as these that I no longer hate Christmas. Sad, anxious or off kilter altogether, I know I’m still welcome and that sounds like one hell of a holiday to me. So regardless of what you celebrate, if the coming weeks make you sad, I implore you ride that grey, gloomy, self absorbed train all the way to melancholia junction. It’s been a long year. You deserve to feel however you damn well want to feel. At least that’s what baby Jesus would say to you. Especially if you’re a mother. Quit wrapping and take a nap already. What better gift can you get than that? Aside from a ukelele. Because seriously, that would be spot on.
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