I bet you were expecting some melancholy story about the holidays weren’t you? You were wondering to yourself why the WP powers that be would choose such a heavily negatively charged word would be the prompt so close to the holidays. Maybe we miss our family or friends because of circumstances this year. Maybe we miss love and loved ones.
You might even be tempted to write about the inherent gloominess of the holidays, irreverent contrarian that you are. But you should take hope in knowing that contrary to popular belief, suicides do not increase over the holidays. Yes, it is common for some people to feel a bit depressed over the holidays, with whatever emotional or psychological baggage distance, or forced closeness, or extra glasses of eggnog, may bring up. Holiday stress is a very real thing. There are increasingly unrealistic and seemingly insurmountable pressures to make each holiday perfect and better than the last. The perfect holiday party. The perfect presents. The perfect way to avoid ‘holiday’ vs ‘Christmas’ talk. This year especially I imagine many families will have to be extra careful when dealing with politics or beliefs, as we continue to divide ourselves more and more each day. The holidays can also be a shock to our system, a severe departure from the norm. We suddenly have relatives popping in from all over the world and they may even be sleeping in your guest room already. There’s increasing amounts of socialization that can cause anxiety in some and the opposite, having to be away from familiar faces during the holidays, can cause feelings of loneliness. Either way, once you start hearing those Christmas songs on the radio, you know you’re entering a completely different world for the next four weeks.
If you’ve seen It’s a Wonderful Life, I wouldn’t blame you for wondering how others are handling the yuletide season and assuming (though incorrectly) that others must feel miserable and dejected. After all, if it isn’t A Christmas Story on television you’re usually stuck with It’s a Wonderful Life. You may see George Bailey contemplating suicide in the beginning of the movie and imagine there must be plenty of others who feel the same way. But don’t forget that in the end he ultimately chooses not to end his life, realizing how good he actually has it. Somehow I fear that message gets lost in the cynicism that some of us arm ourselves with to counter the overly festive mood.
I have to admit, I am one who used to believe the myth that suicides and depression increase over the holidays. The truth is, and we should all work to spread this around, is that according to the Center for Disease Control, November and December have the least amount of suicides and/or suicide attempts. I do get a bit depressed usually around the holidays, often because of failed relationships and missing love. Between Christmas, New Year’s, my birthday, and Valentine’s Day, it seems that there is some romantic occasion I am missing out on every other week. I admit to feeling lonely, sometimes unfulfilled, and my mind wanders to who isn’t thinking of me at the time. It’s a terrible way to be, and I’m working on that through this experiment after all. I’m also a bit of a contrary bastard, and sometimes I feel while everyone is jumping off the deep end on merry I need to you know, inject a bit of melancholy. We all have the right, even during the holidays, to feel a little down, to feel like something’s missing, but we do no one any favors by perpetuating and strengthening the idea that everyone feels like this right now and that everyone is contemplating something as serious and as heavy as suicide. Just take a deep breath, take a walk around the block when your relatives get on your nerves, either have that extra glass of eggnog or be a teetotaler completely, and you should be fine. We’ll all get through this together.
I will tell you more about what I did miss while I was in Mexico though. Home for the holidays. I don’t think I could ever celebrate the holidays away from home. The resort had Christmas trees up with big fake presents wrapped up in giant gold bows, the staff at the resort and the casino and anywhere we went shopping were all wearing Santa hats, and they even played some Christmas music in the airport while we were waiting for our flight. But nothing really made me feel like ‘oh wow, it’s Christmas, I’m so excited’. I needed to be back home to really feel it. No matter where I am in the world, I don’t think anything would bring me into the holiday mood more than decorating our Christmas tree. We usually put it up on Thanksgiving, while we’re going crazy in the kitchen cooking we start the process of bringing the tree down from the attic and taking out all the decorations and lights. Aside from all the standard decorations we put up we have our own personal ornaments that we like to hide around the tree. I have a martini glass and a TARDIS. My brother has a shiny car and a Spongebob Squarepants ornament. My mother hides a Snoopy ornament and a Hershey Kiss. My father has a poker table and a golf set. That makes it our tree.
Every year we also put out a grand Christmas Village display with pieces from Department
56 that we’ve collected over the years. You know we only started this because my brother fell in love with the displays back when they used to have actual retail shops. My brother was always very quiet and very reserved, but whenever we were at the mall doing Christmas shopping and we’d pass by the Christmas Village display his eyes would light up and he’d excitedly point at all the different houses and shops and the moving pieces. My mother wanted to give my brother something to look forward to every Christmas, so we started building our own. We had the moving track with cars running in circles around town, a Santa flying over the village with his reindeer, and ice skaters moving gracefully over a frozen pond. We bought as many of the pieces as we could find. Toy stores, donut shops, houses, town squares. We had so many figures too and each year we love putting together different stories hidden throughout the village. We get to imagine where the carolers might go to, or who might be sneaking presents back home, and we even have a man we like to imagine has forgotten to tie down his tree to his car and is struggling to get it back!
It’s the little things that add up to creating the environment of home. Watching the decorations we have up all year-round transform to seasonal Christmas decorations. The stuffed bear we have on a rocking chair in the living room becomes a jolly old Santa. The tapestry we hang on the wall in the hall becomes a card hanger that we get to fill as the days go by with Christmas cards from friends and family. We’ve long since decided to be ‘that family’ who never takes down their Christmas lights outside so really I see the wires all the time but at least now we actually plug them in, which is nice.
Yes, it’s bitingly cold outside, but I like that. It’s part of Christmas. And everyone is extra cheerful because it really is a wonderful time of year, when we try our best to reach beyond that which divides us and focus on what makes us all one community. And for every person who might not be thinking of me anymore, I am surrounded by two more who are. I guess what I’m trying to say is, don’t force the issue. That makes no one happy. We’re all allowed a few gloomy days. We are all allowed to feel like something’s missing. But the holidays are about home, and you just need to find whatever it is that makes you feel most like that. I just got back from a lovely warm beach vacation, but I could never Christmas there, away from friends and family and hopefully snow (yeah that’s right, I want buckets and buckets of it; let’s see who prays the hardest this winter). The holidays are an emotional rollercoaster, but at least I have my anchor in the storm.
Man: 126 Loneliness: 28