Ah, the holidays.
For some it’s the best time of the year; for others it’s their worst nightmare. It’s more than just the crowded stores, long lines, and expenses of gifts and parties. It’s judgmental family members, people you haven’t seen in a year (or longer), memories of holidays past, and the feeling of being alone if you’re one of the few who don’t have any of those things to worry about. For some of us, the coming of the holiday season just means we start holding our breath, trying to brace ourselves for what we believe is to come.
I’ve become one of those people, but I remember what it felt like to have holiday spirit. I used to call myself the Christmas Fairy. What I remember most is the ability that I had to make other people feel better, if only for a few moments. Genuine enthusiasm and joy is infectious, and at its core the holiday season is really about showing your appreciation for others.
Once, I ‘made Christmas’ for a friend who didn’t like the holiday – I don’t remember why, I guess it was just never great for him. I wanted to give him a good experience, a happy memory that might make the holidays seem a little brighter in the years to come. It wasn’t much, I just surprised him after school one day, with the help of another friend, with a tree for us to decorate with Christmas music and presents under the tree, and I used my white duvet as ‘snow’. It was so cozy and adorable. I don’t think that I instilled a love of Christmas in him, but for one day he was actually happy because I did something for him, at a time when he almost never was.
Ever since then, when I think ‘Christmas’, I think of that day. And ever since then, all I’ve wanted every Christmas is a moment like that. I’m always disappointed, but sometimes I think that I’m not being open-minded enough. It’s not like those moments happen every year, but special things do happen some years, just in different ways.
Two years ago I literally worked every day up until the bitter end and I saw no one, but I got to see my best friend late at night on Christmas Eve, which turned into Christmas morning. And that was so special because I always want to see people on the actual holiday but never can – everyone is busy with their families, but I have a very small family and they’re not really into hanging out, so I’m usually lonely. My mom will take a nap, my dad will go to church or for a coffee, my brother will play video games and I’ll be twiddling my thumbs wishing I had a friend. That still happened, but at least I saw someone. The person I wanted to see most.
I want a moment like that every year. And I know exactly who I want it to be with this year…but my wish isn’t exactly realistic. People can’t always physically be with you, but I still hope for a sign that they’re thinking of me even half as much as I’m sure I will be about them.
Maybe something different will happen, though. I will just go with it – after all, I often forget that this moment that I’m chasing was actually completely unintended. That moment two years ago was our last resort because our original plans kept falling through. Sometimes a last resort can turn out to be the best idea you’ve ever had. And last year, I wasn’t especially excited for New Year’s Eve, but I ended up meeting someone who I fell in love with.
And maybe nothing will happen at all, and I’m never going to tell myself to just stop being sad about stuff, but it’s not the end of the world. It won’t go down in history as the Worst Christmas Ever. Even if it somehow does – oh well. Christmas happens every year. I’ll just have to wait a little longer, which isn’t fair, but neither is anything else in my life.
The point is that thanks to an incredibly depressing winter a couple of years ago, and a really GOOD winter last year with someone who is gone now, all of this stresses me out way more than it should. I just want to not cry. That is my goal. I think I can manage that. I’m trying to reclaim this holiday that used to feel like it was mine, but I could use a little bit of Christmas Fairy dust.
I think that the benefits of spreading holiday cheer are overlooked. This is one of those cases where less really is more. There are things that those who love the holidays and wish that everyone around them could get on board can do to help. Assaulting someone with red and green, ugly sweaters, candy canes and Christmas music? Maybe not. (Unless that person is me, in which case please do.) That could seem like you’re just trying to irritate them on purpose.
But what about just a thoughtfully written card sent to someone who you haven’t talked to in a while, not just to keep in touch but to truly tell them how special they are? A gift that they genuinely want or need instead of something generic, or when they’re not expecting one? Or even a different kind of surprise – taking someone skating who hasn’t been in years or who has always wanted to learn how, or showing up at someone’s door even though no one does that kind of thing anymore. Sending someone flowers even though you can’t physically be with them – for some the loneliness is palpable, and a little piece of you when they’re not expecting it could be what they need to feel better.
Even if you don’t like the holidays, if you have it in you to make someone else feel better, even if only for a day, just do it. I think that everyone can agree with that idea. You never know, it might even make you feel better too.
The holidays can be difficult for a multitude of reasons, and it’s important to acknowledge that sometimes those reasons include mental illness and traumatic experiences. I don’t think it’s realistic to tell a person like that to just cheer up ‘because it’s the holidays’, just like it’s not realistic to tell someone with mental illness to just cheer up at any other time of the year.
Small, simple, personal touches mean a lot to anybody, but they mean even more to someone who is struggling. If you have someone in your life who is lonely or having a hard time for any reason (someone like me, I guess) I implore you to give them a little bit of extra attention over the next couple of weeks. You might not get why they’re upset, but does that really matter? It’s easy to think that it’s not worth the effort, that you won’t make a difference, but the reality is that most of the time we all impact the world around us more than we think we do.
So why not at least try?
Happy holidays, everyone.
Chelsea Ricchio is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of the SPEAK OUT blog. She is also the Communications Manager for Healthy Minds Canada. She graduated from the University of Toronto in 2015 with a BA in English Literature and Book & Media Studies. She was the former president of the student group Active Minds at UofT, which hosts SPEAK OUT events on campus (from which this blog takes its name). She was diagnosed with Dysthymia and Social Anxiety. She is 23 and lives in Toronto with her cat Genie and her roommate.