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“Oh, there’s no place like home for the holidays,” the familiar tune affronted me through the speakers of my car as I tried to maneuver in the mid-December traffic.
“Fuck you,” I muttered, hitting the power button on my radio a little too hard and gripping the steering wheel with more pressure. I glanced out the window, willing my heart to slow down and my eyes not to well up.
For most of my 25 years, Christmas has been my absolute favorite time of the year. Sure, the traditions have varied and changed slightly over the years, but for the most part, the foundation was the same. We’d all be home a few days before the “big” day. We’d all bustle around, pretending to clean when mom handed us supplies and blasting the familiar tunes through the house, trying to outsing each other.
We’d be far too competitive with our cookie decorating, and Cookiegate 2015 still makes my heart clench because I had obviously decorated the most gorgeous cookie and the title got stolen from under me. We’d watch Rudolph and Santa Claus is Coming to Town, quoting the familiar lines, laughing at the cheesy claymation, and all the while making memories that would seem more like home than home itself.
I loved everything about the season. The “cold” weather (which meant you could wear a hoodie in Florida) and the stress of finding the perfect gift. The Chrismas Eve gift exchange between my brothers and the candlelight service at the church we went to once a year (sorry, God). The tattered old pop-up book that held the poem, “Twas the night before Christmas, that we were only allowed to open once a year, on Christmas Eve night. I loved popping the champagne. I loved opening the stockings. And most of all, I loved looking around the living room, fireplace a blazing, on December 25th each and every year to see the people I loved most in the world smiling back at me, happy, healthy, and safe.
No matter what happened in life, Christmas was always the magical time. The special time. The time when everyone put their shit aside and just existed in that perfect limbo. It didn’t matter how school was going or how our relationships were going. All that mattered was we had that time to be with each other, love each other, and take part in the traditions that we all hold so close to our family.
What happens, however, when that limbo doesn’t exist for you? When that limbo is snatched away from you?
I’m not ready to go into the hows and the whys. What matters, though, is that for some people, hell, for a lot of people, there are some painful hows and whys for their holidays not being the same this year. Why there’s no place like home this holiday, not even home.
Maybe it’s a death, lingering over your first holiday without a loved one, or an illness that makes you fear the bleakness of a future holiday. Maybe mental illness has gripped your family, stripping it of its comfort. A divorce or a feud or money issues — whatever it is, it’s drifted over this happy time, turning the reds and greens and blues and whites into grey. Turning what was supposed to be happy into a reminder of how unhappy things are.
Whatever it is, it’s different. Painful. Scary, even. Scary because things are different and scary because instead of being filled with the joy and love of the season, you’re filled with something darker. A sense of loss for what you used to have, and a sense of longing for what you thought would always be there.
The point is, the songs are true. There really is no place like home for the holidays. But for some people, going home for the holidays this year, or every year, doesn’t give them that feeling of magic. Of wonder. And if dealing with painful shit as everyone decorates trees and stresses about shopping is hard, thinking you’re the only one standing in a sea of sadness and grief is enough to make it torture.
So, friends, I just want you to know: You truly are not alone. Whether this year is hard because of a subtle change, like Santa no longer coming, or because of a much larger one, like a loved one missing or having to have extra room on the couch for an illness, know that just like the season, this too shall pass. But as you’re trying to get by, hoping for a moment or two of solace, know that no matter how beautiful the Instagram feeds are, plenty of other people feel just as isolated as you.
And while it’s natural to mourn over what the holiday used to mean, hold hope for what it will again. There’s a reason songs like “Blue Christmas,” exist. With happiness and change comes sadness and loss. And just because every holiday isn’t magical, it doesn’t mean they won’t be again. So, enjoy the beautiful moments you get, and accept the sad ones, all the while remembering that just because you feel alone, you’re truly not. And just because the world seems dark, one day, one holiday soon, the lights will be turned back on. And the best part is? Even if your life and your holiday are shit, you can fake it on Instagram, rake in the likes, and no one will know the difference. And at the end of it all, isn’t that what truly matters?.