Merry, Indeed

It had the potential to be a rough Christmas. What with the impending layoff threat and some strange times in other respects, I was apprehensive and when I get anxious about that sort of thing my default mode is procrastination. It makes zero sense logically, as though delaying thought and concern about something actually made it go away rather than just creating extra panic and stress when the zero hour looms and all activities must be shoehorned into a frantic week or (ahem) afternoon.

Obviously I can’t describe the future, but I’m more optimistic than I was even a week ago. It helps that I survived the layoffs, although it wasn’t all rosy: My boss was affected and while I didn’t get a chance to work with her for very long, she was seeming like she’d likely become one of my favorite managers in my career to date. And it’s really hard to be joyful about keeping your job when so many peers are affected and, of course, there may be more cuts in the future. But beyond that, I’ve just found a greater peace this season than I expected to. Even before the revelation that I wouldn’t spend the holidays unemployed, I was coming to a strange harmony with what has historically been an awkward season for me.

See the thing is I love Christmas. Or more specifically, I love the concept of it that I’ve fostered in my head, an entity that does not actually exist. There are elements to the materialistic version of Christmas that, honestly, I loved as a kid. I mean even then I felt a peculiar form of guilt when it came to receiving gifts. I knew I was being spoiled and I kind of wished that I wasn’t so “I want this and this and this” about it, but my object-obsessed self typically won out. I would somehow compensate by feeling like I had to truly cherish every gift I received no matter how small. The idea that I might be disappointed in something felt sour and shallow and I would do whatever I could to force delight in every act of kindness.

Somehow I felt this was not misguided but in fact the “right” way to celebrate Christmas: Get a ton of loot and feel overwhelmed by the blessings of fortune that had made them possible. Any time I heard some kid gripe about a lame present a grandparent had gotten them or express remorse that their most coveted item hadn’t made it under the tree, I’d cringe. It wasn’t that I didn’t feel the same way, I certainly did, but I actively worked to convince myself otherwise and felt the outward expression of this disappointment was churlishness defined.

Even worse to my mind was the gaming of Christmas, comparing the quality and quantity of gifts with a peer or sibling. Even the one-upsmanship of gift giving, intentional or not, coupled with a peculiar extra guilt only my mind could conjure that has me despising myself for not meeting my own ridiculous standards for gifting makes for an awkward game of internal tug-of-war.

What I began to realize a couple of years ago and has, in typical fashion, taken me a long time to gestate into an idea I can use to impact my attitudes. It is simply this: A particular amount of self-serving greed is, if not exactly ideal, at least tolerable during Christmas for children. A lot of our Christmas spirit so to speak is fostered by the ideas we get of the holiday when we’re young, and the wonder of a pile of gifts and toys to a child is worth the sort of flawed object lesson it represents. But there’s a point at which the adorable sparkle in a child’s eye at the mountain of gifts morphs into the slavering glint of entitlement that follows, I’m sad to say, many folks well into adulthood. And I’m not exempting myself from this either.

I think it in fact forks in one of two ways, either you get competitive in the receiving arena or you get competitive in the giving arena. Neither, in my opinion, is all that great. Having a little less this year due to some belt-tightening on account of Nik planning to take some classes next month and the uncertainty on the job front has made the deep plunge into material excess of the past seem as uncomfortable as the struggle to appreciate the gifts I received as a kid. What I’m only now, at nearly 32, starting to understand is the appreciation is of the person, of the gesture, of their mere being. I don’t need things. I have so many more things than I know what to do with. What I need are people. Friends. Family. Love.

It is only this suddenly discovered insight that has lifted my spirits this month. Not that I kept my job or that I can buy or create or obtain gifts for people I care about. Not that I will receive more than I could ever need this year or that I have a fun Christmas tree in my living room. Not even that I have a living room with a roof overhead. It is that I have this life, this season, these people to share it with. Yeah, it could have been a rough Christmas if I had decided to look at it that way. It’s not easy for me to look on the bright side.

That I can, and am, is what makes this Christmas merry.

Enjoy the season.

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