Holiday Cheers Or Tears—My Bad?

It is always fascinating to observe reactions and approaches—mine and others’—to holidays. Those times during the year when we most desire to be, or even require ourselves to be in good spirits sometimes end up feeling like the worst rather than the best of times. The harder we try to feel upbeat or festive the worse we tend to feel. It’s no wonder the words “bah humbug” have become as much a part of the holiday vernacular as “Season’s Greetings” or “Happy New Year!”

I asked The Team, what is it about holidays that so frequently bring us down? Why are those occasions that are supposed to be the merriest often the hardest to genuinely enjoy?

It is really quite remarkable how creative and persistent most of you are in holding yourself back from feeling good—and the seemingly endless list of reasons you can find for feeling bad. Not only do you feel bad for feeling bad, but you give yourselves a hard time when you’re not feeling as good as you think you should.

Your celebrations, your holidays and festivals and parties, often serve to drive you into particularly deep funks in part because your desire to feel good is especially strong and so if you are not allowing joy to flow for one reason or another you are even more acutely aware of the gap than usual. The holidays also affect you because of all the pressure you place on yourselves to be experiencing and acting in ways that others (and you) have decided are appropriate for those occasions. You decide that on these designated times you will drop every other feeling you may have been practicing and for that evening or that few hours or that few days, you will be gleeful and buoyantly upbeat, regardless of how you’ve been in the hours or days or weeks or months leading up to those occasions.

The reason it so seldom really works is, first of all, because you’re often trying to access feelings that are too far from what you’ve been practicing most of the time. If you’ve been feeling pretty ornery or stressed or burned out or down in the dumps going in to your time of celebration, you’re not going to have easy access to bubbly merriment (and we’re not referring to the sort with a cork on it). What typically happens is that you demand of yourself that you rise to some occasion and feel some set of feelings that are often out of range, and then you find some way to punish yourself for not being up to the task of really getting into the spirit of whatever occasion it is that is bearing down on you.

The real irony here is that better feelings than the ones you’re having are always available. But in your efforts to jump too far across the chasm between where you are and where you think you ought to be, you fail to calculate the real distance and you basically try to do too much. You try to take too great a leap and generally end up falling flat on your face—or at least, feeling like it.

Your holidays and many of your other celebrations can be wonderful occasions for remembering who you really are and for rejoicing with others in the sharing of that recognition and the uplifting of each other for the sake of pure enjoyment and appreciation. But often these occasions are anything but real celebrations. Often they are perfect examples of the ways that you bow to consensus or that you care more about what others say and think than about how you feel. And the more you care about what others think and say and do as opposed to how you feel, the less likely you are to engage freely and genuinely—and happily—in the occasions you call your holidays.

No matter what you are celebrating or why you are coming together with others, if your heart is not in it, if your own guidance is clearly showing you that your efforts are not lined up with your desires, then you are going to feel anything but festive. So what can you do? If bucking generations of tradition and ignoring or avoiding parties and family gatherings doesn’t seem like a viable option, how can you approach these times and these seasons in a way that feels better to you? How can you genuinely allow the ‘holiday spirit’ to be the spirit that you are offering?

We would suggest that you apply some why’s to your dilemma. Whenever you are struggling with some action or expectation that seems to contradict or conflict with what you are feeling and wanting, begin to ask “Why?” to whatever is going on relative to that topic.

If you are feeling lackluster at best about the prospect of another New Year’s Eve party, ask yourself why? Why does the idea of this affect you in this way? Why would you be dreading or not wanting to join others in a celebration that so many seem to enjoy? Why might your feelings about this be perfectly appropriate under the current conditions? Why might it be absolutely understandable that you wouldn’t feel like doing something like that at the moment? Why would you feel the need to force yourself to do something that doesn’t appeal to you? Why might doing something that appeals to you—or not doing it—be a choice that could serve you?

The point here is not to make going to a party or not the subject of an inquisition, but rather to encourage you to become more aware of the reasons that you always have for feeling the way you do. And as you identify some of those reasons, to also begin to question, if only a little, the harshness with which you are judging those feelings.

If a dear friend of yours had been sad or depressed for a very long time and you understood the reasons for that sadness, and in the midst of that sadness, your friend also began feeling guilty for not feeling happier—so that others would not be inconvenienced or distressed by their unhappiness . . . what counsel might you offer? Would you tell your friend to suck it up and go to the party because everyone’s expecting him or her to be there or because it’s just what you’re supposed to do?

You might suggest the possibility that if your friend could find their way to joining a celebration and to allowing some of the real reason for the celebration to resonate with them, that they might find themselves allowing more joy to flow through them. You might suggest to your sick or depressed or worried or frustrated friend, that if they turned their attention to something that was genuinely appealing to them or soothing to them or amusing to them, that they might find their mood lifting and brightening.

These would be responsive and caring suggestions as opposed to trying to bully your buddy into going to a party or participating in a celebration regardless of how he or she felt about it.

And yet you bully yourselves this way all the time. You come up with so many excuses for punishing yourself and for blaming yourself for not being where you think you’re supposed to be. Instead, try the why’s. Try asking yourself why you think you should be somewhere other than where you are. Try asking yourself why you are so determined to feel good in order to please others that you will allow yourself to feel bad in the process.

Try asking yourself, how would a truly loving and understanding friend be treating me or talking to me about this? Whether you decide to go to the party or not, to sit at the table or not, to join the celebration or not, isn’t the point. The point is why you decide to—or not. And no matter what you decide, it’s only your bad if the decision you make leaves you feeling worse.


For the last three years my companions at midnight on New Year’s Eve have been a candle and The Team . . . sitting quietly and enjoying a simple—or elaborate—meditation of releasing the year that’s passed and welcoming the one that’s arriving. The choice to be ‘alone’ when much of the world is puckering up for a celebratory kiss could be labeled anything from peculiar to pathetic. But whenever someone asks me if I have plans for New Years I can always say yes and be genuinely looking forward to them.

Of course, everybody might not poop out at parties the way I do, or find the same comfort or joy in my sort of annual ritual. But no matter what choices are made about how to participate in these occasions, there is something comforting in the blindingly obvious realization that it really is up to us. We can put on party hats, we can dance the night away, we can watch a ball drop out of the sky, we can sit across from a loved one at a quiet table . . . or we can sit quietly enjoying our own companionship.

The choice doesn’t matter nearly as much as the reason we make it. There’s something cheering about the idea that holidays and other celebrations—like pretty much everything else—are ultimately what we make of them. In a sense every day really is a holiday in that we get to decide how to approach our participation in it. That leaves me feeling a lot less like a wallflower pressured to bloom on demand and a lot readier to face the season in whatever way that toots my horn. And that leaves me with a season that genuinely feels a bit brighter—and more complete.

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About Dan

Published novelist, poety, essayist, photographer and college educator. Visit me at www.firstadream.com.

Posted on December 30, 2007, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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