hello everyone! We’ve reached the fabled third blog, so I guess this is actually happening. That’s assuming my fingers don’t break here. I just came in from a long walk in the cold, and there’s a winter storm coming in, so I may or may not be able to write this entire thing. We’ll see what happens!
It’s the end of Christmas day. I’m full, a bit sleepy, and feeling very contemplative. Christmas is a holiday to which I have many complicated feelings. Some of them stem from my own personal beliefs and upbringing (we’re not getting into those here), but most are from the actual instances of the holiday I’ve experienced. To me, Christmas represents both one of the most heartwarming and uplifting holidays, a time of peace and togetherness and warmth for the world—but simultaneously, also one of the saddest and loneliest days of the year, of darkness and overwhelming melancholy, with the inevitable march of time pressing onward.
I veer between these pretty much yearly.
Here I sit though, listening to a mix of Andy Williams and Trans-Siberian Orchestra, perhaps the two ends of my musical tastes (traditional old school and modern over-the-top metal), staring at a laptop screen and banging out a blogpost. This year was one of the most mixed between the two ends of my Christmas experience, where I was both sad and lonely while still experiencing a heartwarming and joyful time with family. I sometimes wonder if one can’t exist without the other, like light and dark. It seems silly, since they shouldn’t be codependent, yet they always go hand-in-hand in my life.
Winter seasonal depression is a serious thing, there’s some scary statistics about it. Historically, this time of year has always been associated with major changes in my life, and they seem to alternate between amazing and horrifying. I draw a lot on my past experiences for my writing, and while Christmas never features strongly in any of my stories (it has one brief scene in TLS but that’s about it), the season nonetheless holds a significant impact. I wonder personally how much of it is evolution, and how much of it is cultural. Christmas holds such enormous sway over us in the West (for my readers elsewhere, hello! this blog probably won’t mean as much to you, but I’m glad you’re here 💙).
This isn’t an original idea, mind. I credit this particular thought train to one of my favorite critics, Emily Van Der Werff (formerly of the AV Club, now at Vox). I fell in love with her musings back when she was reviewing episodes of Community, and this particular piece always comes to mind for me every year:
Ultimately, this holiday, more than any other, is intensely personal. The general practices at other holidays are fairly standardized, but every family has their own end-of-year holiday traditions that become more sacred than any other meaning the holiday holds. The nights are long and cold, and more than anything, what we need is each other. This is the one time of year when family gatherings become all but mandatory, no matter how little we may want to attend them. … Nobody wants to be alone at this time of year, but a lot of people are.
Christmas is never quite what we want it to be once we reach adulthood and we start to realize all of the things keeping it from being as great as we’d hoped it might be. (Frightened Rabbit, of all bands, has a great song about this.) We like to pretend the world stops for the season, but all of the awful, terrible things that keep the world from being as good as it could be keep going on, regardless of the time of year.
That’s the way this works. That’s the way this has to work. Until you’re older, and the nights aren’t as cold as you remembered, and the lights aren’t quite as bright. What was is no more; now, it’s all fading photographs and ghosts. As it should be. But at the end of the year, it’s easier to let the world grow more porous, to let the ghosts slip through, until all that’s left is you, trying to get back to a place that doesn’t exist anymore, unless you’re lucky enough to build it anew.
(edited to remove specific references and spoilers to this episode. If you haven’t watched Community, please do, it’s incredible)
The piece sounds very depressing (particularly the quotes I pulled and in light of the pandemic), but honestly, it’s more optimistic than it looks—and so am I. The most important thing in this world is family, in my opinion. However, we all learn as we get older that the definition of family is wider than we once thought. Sometimes it’s the people you were born to, a whole great gathering with food and company and music and games. But sometimes it’s just you and one beautiful companion, your entire world in one small kitchen when you keep getting in the way trying to help until she laughs and kicks you out to the couch. Family is whatever you decide it is, and for some of us, that’s not the traditional interpretation.
Sidebar: I still edit these blogposts as I go, as if they’re proper prose, and have deleted these sentences a bunch to get a better flow. My goal of having some good-old vomit-writing has completed failed here. ¯_(ツ)_/¯
So when I refer back to this piece by Emily, my thoughts are not so much that Christmas is ultimately depressing, but that I kept trying to force it back into a box from my childhood, as do my parents. Neither of us have quite accepted that the other is not who we thought growing up, that first impressions didn’t hold and we’ve had to re-examine each other in new lights. We’ve not yet reached the point where we can build anew. Our old concept of our family has fallen by the wayside, and the new one is still in the process of being defined.
This isn’t some new concept of course. Pretty much everyone in the LGBTQ community goes through some version of this. Many completely disconnect from their birth parents and find a new family in the world, and others have parents who accept them without delay. It’s a wide spectrum (or rainbow!), because the world is so wide and varied and beautiful. Everyone has their own story of this. Some are painful and tragic and lonely, some are beautiful and heartwarming and full of joy. Some are simply empty voids, a dearth of any feeling or emotion, and all of these are equally valid.
I still don’t know what mine is yet. I know what I hope it to be, and I fear what it might become, but right now, it’s a story yet to be written.
This isn’t where I expected this blog to go. I was going to post some pictures of cool lights and things and we’d all have a nice time looking at them (i’ll include them at the end don’t worry). Instead, we’re at Etzy’s Christmas Confessions. I guess that’s appropriate given everything I’ve written above. My family is complicated, and I love them, and I hope they love me—not the version in their head, but the actual me. Is it something you can ever really know? I like to think it is. I’ve been in love before, and felt a wholehearted unabashed love in return. Nothing in the world has ever quite matched that feeling, and I’m not sure anything ever will again.
And that’s okay. Just like with Christmas, it’s a memory from a much younger butterfly. I shouldn’t try to get back to that old place, because to do so is to deny who I am now, and all it took to get me here. All I can do is keep going. Forward, ever forward, unto that new dawn where the light shines anew and the world alights upon the day.
Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and to any of you feeling alone and in pain this season: know that I feel for you, I have been where you are, and I sincerely love you with all of my heart.
p.s. here’s those photos: