When I was a kid, December always came with this sense of magic. Having my birthday fall exactly 10 days before Christmas definitely added to my holiday spirit, but for me, it wasn’t even all about the presents. There was just something special about believing in someone who believed in you, despite having never met each other. There was this sense of security in being told that someone was watching over you and rooting for you to be a good person. There was hope in every strand of lights glowing in the bitter cold of a midnight black sky and every man conjured up from the snow by the hands of children. Even then, I found a beautiful metaphor in the way that someone so cold could still carry a smile on his face.
It wasn’t until I was about 10 years old that I noticed how black and empty Frosty’s eyes were, despite that constant smile. Those wooden arms were just broken pieces of something once beautiful that had died. Arms like that were never meant to hug back.
As time passed and I grew older, Christmas just didn’t feel as special anymore, and not just because Santa Clause had been an imposter of my childhood imagination. As I grew older, I became more observant of the adults in my life and I started to notice the sadness that lingers at the corners of their mouths when they smiled in response to every “Merry Christmas!” offered by strangers in parking lots or on the other side of the cash register.
Maybe it was the way that my mother always felt it necessary to apologize to my sister and I on the days leading up to Christmas for not being able to get us more. Her sadness and sense of disappointment in herself always made us feel bad. We always assured her we were thankful for whatever the hell she got us and always yelled at her for feeling the need to apologize to us at all, even though she always managed to pull off amazing Christmases for us each year. Even when we didn’t deserve it. Seeing my mom struggle was never fun. There was nothing magical about the bags under her eyes, the direct result of working her ass off while our father sat on the couch and pickled his liver.
On my nineteenth birthday, my grandmother, whom we lived with at the time, passed away. Her funeral took place exactly one week before Christmas. Understandably, none of us were really in the holiday spirit that year. I continued to struggle with it for the next few years. I was that pocket full of sunshine in everybody’s newsfeed on Facebook, consistently spreading my bitterness toward the season in the form of rants, negative memes, and pictures of the Grinch. It was easier to be green than it was to be vulnerable and admit that I was hurting. A lot of my friends felt the same way about Christmas, but for different reasons. So we all jumped on the “anti-Christmas” band wagon and headed for the edge of the nearest cliff.
Last year, when I felt the beginning of my all-too-familiar seasonal depression trying to make its way into my home like an uninvited distant relative, I decided something needed to change. So, I just said “fuck it.” I threw open my door and invited that bitch in to make some Christmas cookies.
I have never been very religious. I have my beliefs, but I never actively practiced them in any formal kind of way. I understand that Christmas originates and is recognized by many as a religious holiday, but for my family, it was never like that. Sure, there was always that one old, weird ornament of Jesus hung unceremoniously somewhere on the tree each year, and my mother always preferred to top the tree with an angel rather than a star, but that was about as far as our religious acknowledgements went. For us, Christmas was more about togetherness and getting pissed at my dad for always drinking all of the eggnog.
So as an attempt to overcome my seasonal depression that I always fought so damn hard to keep out, last year I finally decided to just embrace it. In embracing it, I figured out how to embrace Christmas as well, in my own non-traditional kind of way. I put up a tree in my room and decorated it with things that would make some people uncomfortable. I bought a bunch of picture frame ornaments and printed out pictures of my favorite characters from The Walking Dead. Ultimately, I ended up with a Daryl Dixon-themed Christmas tree that Norman Reedus himself would have been quite proud of. I offered to put up and decorate my mom’s and my aunt’s Christmas trees as well. I decorated the house for the first time, lining every window and doorway with lights and garland. I volunteered to wrap as many people’s presents as I could get my hands on until my back was screaming at me louder than any resonating sadness could. I made mass quantities of Christmas cookies (most of which tasted pretty terrible, but damn were they pretty). I incorporated my love of horror with my newfound holiday spirit and watched Christmas-themed episodes of Supernatural, along with Krampus and Jack Frost. I mixed Kahlua with my eggnog and listened to pop punk covers of Christmas songs I swore I hated. Before I knew it, I was actually really happy. My smiles weren’t forced when people wished me happy holidays. Hell, I even reciprocated the gesture.
This year, I am actually excited for the holidays.
It is okay to struggle. It is okay to cope by whatever means necessary. But I have learned that sometimes, it is just easier to try to let yourself be happy instead of spending all of your energy trying to fight off the holiday blues. Sometimes you just have open your door and let them both in: the happiness and the sadness. Sometimes you have to just let yourself feel through one so you can get to the other. It’s okay to redefine the holidays in a way that works for you. It’s okay to embrace them and alter them in ways that make them more enjoyable to you, as long as you’re not disrupting anyone else’s right to celebrate how they want to as well. It’s okay to create your own traditions and find your own meaning. It’s okay to plug in that string of lights even when it feels like the darkness of it all is overwhelming.