On Dec. 24, 2011, my grandmother passed away. Eight years later, I still think about her every single holiday season.
It’s hard to separate Christmas from my memory of her. That first year was really hard, and it started to feel like it got worse from there. I’m an only child. My aunt stopped talking to our family. Last Thanksgiving, we did without the table talk and ate separately instead. The warmth, the family focus, the holiday spirit — it just isn’t there. We’re just going through the motions now. It’s been that way for a while.
The speed of college — and, perhaps all adult life — hasn’t helped, either. When all the work clumps together, the days begin to clump together, too. Halloween this year — the one holiday I try to reserve and keep as special as possible — just became another Thursday for me. I had too much work to do anything.
Perhaps the most frustrating part of losing the holiday magic, though, is watching the world celebrate around you. The trees and menorahs and pumpkins are lit, the music is all-encompassing, everyone around is spirited but yourself. The world has decided to celebrate. For you, it’s a workday. It’s like FOMO taken to an 11, especially compared to years prior. A question: How well do you sleep the night before any given holiday? I remember being so excited when I was young that I would be awake hours into the night, wake up at an annoyingly early hour, and rampage my way directly to the living room. Now everything is normal; a momentary celebration before returning to the grindstone. I would do anything to get that wonder back.
So without a given family or time to allot to them, I’ve had to rebuild the holidays.
Two years ago, I started a new tradition; my group of friends and I would go to a movie, treat ourselves to the best ice cream in Eugene — shout out to Prince Puckler’s — and exchange small gifts. This year, I’m more excited for that tiny gift exchange than I am for Christmas. That exchange brings my holiday warmth back. Not my birth family, not time to myself, not the holiday environment around me — but genuinely, really, taking the time to show we all care for each other.
I’m a gift-giver at heart; seeing someone’s eyes light up at something they didn’t expect to receive is what I live for. Find what makes the holidays special for you. Take every single opportunity to experience that as much as possible. Eat the best food. Play in the snow until your toes freeze off. Hold those you care about close — literally if they’re okay with it. Celebrate the holidays so you get the most out of them. Deconstruct them if you have to; build a new tradition, take time for yourself, do what you need to. This is a time for your enjoyment, first and foremost. To ask the best way to find what makes the holidays work for you is to ask what you like the most about celebrating life. A nontraditional holiday is just as beautiful — no matter what society whispers in your ear. The holidays aren’t just about celebrating family, or winter, or capitalism. They’re about celebrating life. Find the best way to do that.