How I Finally Connected with the Holidays

christmas holidays

All my life I have had some sort of psychological lack of understanding about holidays. As a kid I liked getting presents, of course, and birthdays were pretty cool, too, but other than that I really didn’t see what the big deal was. I certainly didn’t hate all the celebrations, I just never really cared either way. The only thing that ever made a remote blip on my radar was Halloween (which is still my favorite holiday), and I think most of that was because I like costumes and scary films.

I’ve always approached things like Thanksgiving and Christmas as events to endure, rather than enjoy. Just get through it, and then things will go back to normal, I’d tell myself. People would wax nostalgic about all their wonderful holiday memories, and I just didn’t get it. So we eat turkey twice a year, big deal. Why does everybody have to get so worked up about it? Things would reach fever pitch around the middle of December, and to me it just felt like any other month. I enjoyed the lights and the food, but that was about it.

Then I moved to a country where American holidays don’t exist.

This story does not go how you think it goes. It doesn’t end with, “and as soon as I had to experience a year without Christmas, I had a huge epiphany and blah blah blah.” It was not like that at all. There were no teary regrets; it was not a case of me realizing what I’d lost as soon as it was gone. In fact, the first several years without Christmas were absolute bliss. I finally got my wish of being able to get through the last few months of the year without everyone around me going gaga. To be honest, I really enjoyed it, and there were a couple of years that I didn’t even realize a particular holiday had passed until a few days after the fact.

The only thing that ever bothered me, just a little, was the lack of Halloween, my perennial favorite. It had occurred to me that I could just wear a costume anyway and not worry about people staring, but the truth is that Halloween is one of those occasions that isn’t all that fun unless everyone is acting like a nutcase. I didn’t think it was worth the trouble if I was the only one doing it.

So as a consolation prize for missing Halloween, I instead decided to experiment with decorating the house for Christmas. This was going to be difficult, because in a country without Christmas, you can’t just walk into a discount shopping center and buy whatever decorations you want. Whatever I was going to have, I was going to have to make from scratch. I’m not particularly an arts-and-crafts kind of girl, so this was going to test me in every conceivable way. I made a list of things I might like to try making by hand (garland, ornaments, a wreath), and as my boyfriend looked over my shoulder at the list he remarked, “But you don’t even care about Christmas, so why go through all this trouble?”

The answer to that question started out in one place, but ended up somewhere completely different. At first, it was all about the challenge. I’m very task and goal oriented, and for me there’s not much of a dividing line between wondering if something is possible and actually testing it out. So I think my original goal was just to prove to myself that a full set of Christmas decorations could be made without using any prefabricated items.

What surprised me along the way was how my feelings about the project changed as things progressed. I started to connect with the idea of Christmas in a way I never had before in my life. It wasn’t about giving gifts or even the traditional religious connotations; it was about being involved in an journey in a very hands-on way. Everything I created, I created with my own hands. Nothing was as-is. Everything around the house had my heart and soul put into it.

When Christmas day actually came, everything was very laid-back. We didn’t exchange gifts, but rather we pooled our money together and went out for a luxurious meal at a restaurant. For everyone else at the restaurant it was just a normal day, which made Christmas seem like our private secret. When we came home, we sat on the sofa and drank hot chocolate and enjoyed looking at the decorations. It was a very lovely day, probably the best Christmas I’ve ever had.

I’ll admit, I’m still not a huge fan of big holiday celebrations. In fact, I think the reason I have been able to connect with the holidays now in a way I never could before is because of the fact that no one here even knows I’m doing it. I can be as casual as I want about the whole thing, and it’s not shoved in my face every time I walk into a store or down a city street. I think there’s a lot to be said for subtlety within celebration, and I think the holiday season is appealing to me now after so many years because it is more like a private, personal thing, something special to share with loved ones rather than shout from the rooftops. After all, the holidays don’t have to be about showing off to others — they can just as easily be about reflecting inward and enjoying the feelings of connecting to something deeply personal and highly uplifting.

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