For the longest time, I would try to deny I felt any feelings of melancholy after the lights were all strung up on the house. This is Christmastime, dammit! My conscience would kick in saying things like “Get jolly, mofo” while I’d stand by my family’s Christmas tree, sniffing the aroma of pine needles like some holiday equivalent of a cocaine pick-me-up. No actual cocaine was ever used, mind you, nor any spiked eggnog for that matter.
The point is: I sometimes would feel pretty sad at Christmas and it’s something I really didn’t like about myself. I still have never seen It’s a Wonderful Life so maybe all I ever needed was the kind of mystical life-analysis Jimmy Stewart gets in that movie when he’s about to off himself. All I had to go off of was The Grinch and Ebenezer Scrooge and I didn’t want to be a jerk like them. I love Christmas and I like to think I’d never be coldly dispassionate toward the likes of a Bob Crachit. The closest Christmas protagonist I could relate to was Kevin McCallister from Home Alone. He seemed to understand the concept of being upset and lonely at Christmastime. But he was also, like, ten. So I felt kind of creepy about the whole thing.
There’s a lot of social pressure to conform to a sleighride ethic around this time of year: you better be carefree, you better be having fun, you better put all your grudges and pain behind you, you better just slide along down this hill, head thrown back in laughter and explosive dopamine-and-Advent-Calendar-chocolate joy or else. If you transgress, expect coal and/or the condescending scowls of your more traditionally Christmasy family. The Church of Santanism has a lot of say. You don’t. I don’t. We’re all drowned out by the general populous’ blind chants of “Hail Santa!”. What’s a sad person to do at Christmastime?
This is one of the first Christmases I’ve spent truly enjoying the season in a while. I think a lot of it has to do with finally realizing the idea you must be in a constant state of frivolous happiness during Christmastime is what the ancient Greeks called “total bullshit.” Well, that and now I’m on Lexapro. Christmas is a time you spend with a family who can really get on your nerves sometimes, friends who let you down and get let down by you, the memories of significant others you no longer get to kiss under the mistletoe, and all the broken beauty of the world. Let’s not forget the holiday came about when Christianity co-opted a pagan fertility festival to inject its narrative of a Messiah born in a dingy, smelly stable in the midst of a widespread, Herod-promoted infanticide. Not exactly the most cheery subject matter.
It’s amazing what being okay with experiencing “bad” emotions will do for you. Most of the time, the negative emotions start going away. There’s a greater state of equilibrium when you realize life is pretty bent on destabilizing you. The ship’s never going to float in a storm you don’t believe is there. And there’s a lot of storms in December.
This year, I stopped believing it was wrong to be sad at Christmastime and it’s been one of the happiest Christmases I’ve ever had. Sure, I listen to all the shiny, happy Jingle Bells songs but it’s become just as much of a Christmas tradition for me to spin my records by The Smiths and Bon Iver. Why? They just sound better in December and sometimes listening to sad music makes me the happiest.
I’ll always take Chrissie Hynde’s hauntingly melancholy take on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” with The Pretenders to some other version which tries to commodify that minor key song to some major key sentiment of joy. The same goes for their wintry “2000 Miles” and plenty of Sufjan Stevens’ original stuff for the season. For what it’s worth, my favorite Christmas song is “Only at Christmas Time” by Sufjan and that song sounds hauntingly, hauntingly sad. The best Christmas songs are the ones whose sense of hope has a realistic view of how unfortunate circumstances and life on this earth can be at times. Real hope can only exist when you’ve known real pain, real hurt, real despair even. It makes the apple cider and Christmas ham taste even sweeter.
We forget “we wish you a merry Christmas” implies someone’s Christmas may not be merry in its own right. Or that we’re told to “hark!” when the herald angels sing because our natural state is not to listen for their voices. Or that “joy to the world” means the opposite of “joy is the world.”
It’s better to have a family who drives you nuts around the table then a set of Stepford Wives and it’s better to have those good memories of loves lost and won sometimes than to have them actually under the mistletoe. Your fireplace will warm you better when you admit it can get colder now than ever. Christmas is the same as any other time of the year except that it isn’t. Keep the paradox in mind, friendos. It’ll make the most wonderful time of the year all the more merry. Life is brutal and beautiful, especially at Christmastime.
Now let’s drink some Martinelli’s.