by: Amanda Owens
Those that know me in real life know that I am not a big fan of holidays. Usually quite peppy otherwise, it often surprises people that I am so bah-humbug when the “season” rolls around. Maybe it’s the five years of working in retail that ruined it for me; shoppers seem to always be on their worst, entitled behavior (and tip less) from Thanksgiving to after Christmas. Possibly it’s the decorations and remixed contemporary Christmas songs that relentlessly surround us all. Maybe it’s ruined by the many years spent as a youth in church talking about god and his holy son that I don’t believe in: don’t dare take the Christ out of Christmas. An even more likely culprit, however, is the childhood memories of holidays being nothing more than a stress-filled event of an entire exhausting day cooking food, devoured in one meal, after a single prayer of thanks.
Setting aside one day to be thankful–just like setting aside one day to love your lover in February or to be holy in April–always seemed suspicious to me. Suddenly, Facebook statuses pour forth a list of blessings and talk of volunteering. We suddenly love our neighbors and plan family get togethers with people we normally ignore. We turn materialistic while maintaining that we are all about the gift-giving. ‘Tis the season for Hallmark, obligatory abounding love, and being happy.
I approached this Thanksgiving with my usual state of dread. The pressure of having specific holiday plans–and talking about it constantly at work for the weeks before–only added to my high anxiety levels. The year before, I was able to avoid the holiday being in the midst of driving my mother, her dog, and her cat on a three day trip from Texas to Chicago. Now, settled in and ready to celebrate her favorite holiday with me, she made big plans for a holiday that centers–for us–around food and family. Very recently diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, I was especially anxious around a homemade food-centric event. As I now have to obsessively count carbohydrates in meals to administer the appropriate amount of insulin each meal, I had yet to do carb-counting in homemade foods being only a month into the new diagnosis. It was all I could worry about the week and day of. Very cranky, the day passed by quickly and, thankfully, without blood sugar highs.
Holidays aren’t universally merry and bright. Planned events are often exclusive and stressful. Reminders are everywhere: the neighborhood coffeeshop, the grocery store, the public high school; employees push extra items for sale as that perfect gift and constantly forget to say Happy Holidays, but Merry Christmas. Even one of the most ethnically diverse high schools in Chicago (representing over 55 nationalities) has a Christmas tree in their lobby and not a single decoration for Kwanza or Chanukah is in sight.
Personally, Christmas means awkward family photos and even more awkward dinners–striving for perfection, seen in the stillness, but not heard in the moment; suicidal mothers and unforgiven brothers; uncles who once said my beauty was unmatched and grandparents, blinded by bitterness, drinking glass after glass. Christmas embodies depression in each glittery ornament on a fake tree and every card sent from family members never seen. Christmas means having to choose between parents, my love measured by my time.
Usually, when I express dislike or concern over the commercialization of the holidays, I am inundated with a list of reasons to be grateful for or ways to enjoy the holiday. Not everyone has family or friends to spend a holiday with, nor wants to. Sometimes, an invite to join a gathering or the safe space to speak freely goes a long way to making holidays less strenuous than they need to be. Who knows, eventually they might even have special meaning.
Amanda Owens is a summer away from starting grad school at DePaul University. She’s struggling to discover reality in a society that hides behind a curtain of falsified perfection, by being a loud advocate for survivors of sexual assault, being queer and then writing about it, and volunteering for her community. You can always read more of her poetry and politics at http://wagingwarwithwords.wordpress.com.