I know how that headline sounds. The truth is, my thoughts on the holidays are not so finite and/or rooted in hatred. And… I'm not talking about the consumer-side nor the religious aspects of the holiday season. As a matter of fact, let's get a few things out of the way:
No matter what your religious beliefs, here's an important update: As of the time of this writing, there are officially FOUR shopping days left until the start the consumer-driven holiday known as Christmas symbolized by an obese man (sorry... is that non-PC?) in a red suit created by Coca-Cola in 1931 as an advertising campaign (who breaks into your house to leave gifts and steal cookies left for him). Add this to the fact that he's named after the Christian/Catholic/Protestant/Baptist/Mormon/etc. Savior's birthday (even though religious scholars believe He was born in September —wait — no — sometime in the Spring), and is, according to religious history, the King of the Jews (who only believe he was a prophet, not the Son of God). This all, of course, ignores the fact that the original celebration is rooted in Pagan traditions.
Maybe some people are upset about trees being cut down. Or are angry at the perceived wastefulness. Or the blatant, rampant commercialism. Or (like me) that Starbucks is the most obnoxiously festive, Ode-To-Joy/Joy-To-The-World place on the planet. Yup. I get it. But for now, let's simply acknowledge all this… stuff, and silently agree to put it aside for the time it takes you to read the rest of this article. Let's talk about the subject that affects your everyday life: your relationships.
First, please allow me to admit that I actually love the holiday season. And by that, I mean what it stands for: the spirit of the holidays. Although filled with joy and music and gift-giving, the holiday season sends many-a-chill down many-a-person's spine. The pressure can be enormous, both externally and internally, for a multitude of reasons. Studies show that external influences — friends, family, jobs, commutes, living arrangements — can often cause the most turmoil for an otherwise happy couple. Like so:
- Seeing the in-laws/significant other's parents. Pressure mounts to say, do and wear the right thing. The silent judgement can be deafening on both sides of this relationship, and can also lend themselves to arguments that usually don't exist.
- Family. Family you usually don't see (or don’t get along with) bring with them a host of social dynamics that many don't want to deal with, even for a short visit. If you haven't seen them or spoken to them since the last family get-together, chances are there is either no connection… or else there's tension. To have to sit nicely and make small talk with people you don't necessarily care for (or with whom you have unresolved issues) can not only create an atmosphere of tension while present in the situation, but the time before and after the holidays can also feel incredibly stressful.
- Mixed circles of friends. You know them individually, but they don't know each other, and everyone is going to cross paths. The mixed personalities, unknown dynamics, and silent jealousies can make things awkward, before and after the holidays.
- Mixed families. Divorce, stepkids, new girlfriends and boyfriends, exes invited by your friends (and they didn't tell you!)… these examples and more come with their own set of communication challenges. Too many unspoken and unresolved situations can create a bad vibe for everyone.
- Office parties. How do you act? Who should you bring with you? How many drinks should you consume? These are but the warm-up questions, because the real challenge is unspoken, yet ever-present for so many: office politics.
- "When are you going to get married?" conversations. With family and friends present, who's single and who’s taken is very apparent. If you're not in a committed relationship — or you don't bring someone to the gathering/party — you know the question's coming.
- Shopping. Parking spot fights, missing that last sale item, pushing past people in aisle three. Everyone's patience seems to be a little thinner, their tone a little more curt, and their nerves a little more frazzled. And keep in mind, this is all to make sure you are viewed as giving, thoughtful, and kind in the eyes of those you love. (Anyone else see a disconnect here)?
- Comparisons. What should I get them? Is it enough? Is it even with what they are getting me? What if they get me something and I don't get them something? And social media only create a deeper sense of "I didn't get enough" or "I didn't give enough". You'll see what everyone else gave and got on Facebook… but did you?
- Being single. The holiday season is especially hard for those who are not in a relationship. Feelings of inadequacy, loneliness, or bitterness can creep up, distancing the single from the otherwise festive festivities.
And two of the worst (and related) issues for couples:
- Unspoken expectations. If you don't tell them what you want/expect during this time (not just with gifts, but with family relations, time management, events, to-do lists, finances, etc.), you will create tension where their was none — simply because nothing was said.
- How they receive love. We're told at a young age to treat others the way we want to be treated… but that doesn't always work. People receive and recognize love in different ways. One person values time, so they might want (or expect) to spend time that holiday season. Perhaps they have a vacation or some focused, quality time alone as their core need. That's how they recognize and receive love, so they plan that and give that to their significant other. However, the other person values effort, and wants to receive something homemade, or to be "valued enough" that their wants/needs were paid attention to all year, which will result in a physical gift of some sort. That's how they give love. These two people are treating the other as they want to be treated, yet neither will feel that they other cared enough to love them how they want/deserve.
Can we solve all these issues? Of course not. And that is the point. The holiday season might have its good points, but it creates an atmosphere of Get-It-Right-Through-Luck-And-Mind-Reading if people aren't paying really close attention to everything.
Bottom line: Remember that people don't receive love exactly the way you do. Being single isn't a crime. Be open and honest with those you love, and not just through the holiday season, but always. And communicate — which means to listen without judgement. Maybe it sounds trite, but it shouldn't take a religious/Pagan/commercial holiday to have us just be kind to one another? Life is too short not to do these things daily.
Just a couple of days to go. You'll find me waiting for Saint Nick. But not with cookies. Nope, I'm going with tequila.
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