Make of It What You Will

It’s an odd space to be in, after someone dies in the midst of a holiday season. We have, over the years, planned our rituals and meals around my mother-in-law. With her passing, it’s a time of sadness, but it also takes away expectations. I’ve never much cared for the holidays, because I’m just that kind of sourpuss who revels quietly in ordinary living, but loathes over-the-top squeals of delight, social interaction with people I wouldn’t share a lifeboat with, and lavish meals that last an entire day. Although if that meal were entirely made up of mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie, I might stay for seconds.

Rampant expectations send many of us spiraling into a murky depression that is only relieved after the accoutrements are shoved in the attic, the crappy gifts are on their way to a thrift store, and we can enter an establishment without being regaled by some pop star puking out Little Drummer Boy. This is my snarling self on full parade.

My thoughtful, caring self has found a quieter, less rancorous way to get through the canstockphoto24902042holidays without the depression sinkhole. I say “no” a lot. I focus on those things that bring sensory joy – music I like (today it’s pop 70s music), favorite foods, sparkly lights, my child’s happy face when she finds out that we bought those expensive tickets to some nerdy classical music event. But this is not much of a change from our day-to-day. I imagine that is the actual point I’m trying to make. I don’t want the holidays to be a high point in the year. I’m greedy that way – I want happy moments throughout the year. Without all the social expectations.

So we patchwork our way through the holiday. An atheist, a Lutheran, and an undecided. My husband and I brought forth the traditions of our youth – a tree, stockings, and special meal. We added things we liked – like never going anywhere on Christmas day, making cinnamon rolls, staying in our pajamas, playing board games. Quiet joy and love and simple pleasures.

It’s taken decades for me to no longer have that twinge, that hungry expectation of a mended and loving extended family. Spending many years of holidays alone taught me a lot. That we can make whatever of it that we feel like. Sometimes I made overtime and double pay. Sometimes I’d invite a smattering of displaced friends who had nowhere to go. Sometimes I’d not leave the couch all day, after checking out a stack of videos from the library.

The expectation was that I’d survive, that the depression would pass, that someday I’d get to this point, where it wasn’t that big of a deal, where it didn’t become a way to highlight absence, disappointment, or the holes in my life. Instead, it has become a time of reflection, gentleness, gratitude, and compassion.

I wish you peace and small kindnesses, to yourself and those around you, throughout this holiday season.

38 thoughts on “Make of It What You Will

    1. I have many things to feel guilty about (if I choose), but jammy day – never! It used to be just a day of celebration, but because of retail, it feels like the holidays last a good month and a half, so by the time we reach actual Christmas day, we’re all sick of it. On that happy note, hope your holiday day is a good one.

      Liked by 3 people

  1. Ditto. Most people don’t get that I’m fine if I don’t have plans over the holidays — T’giving and Christmas, in particular. I love keeping it local and being in my decorated home with my eclectic tree. But, there’s my 92 year old mother’s expectations of Christmas and how it should be. God forbid she come and stay with any of her kids. She refuses to, even as she travels anywhere else in the world she wants to go. Oh, well. Enjoy the holidays your way!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Those expectations are real joy killers. We have some rigid relatives as well, but I’ve learned not to bend over backwards to make the big trips (we visit off-holiday) or financially put myself out in order to meet someone else’s expectations. The only thing that fills me with chagrin is that I have a hard time being around people who are over-the-top sentimental, because it makes me look like a jerk by contrast. This year I’ve opted out of being around people like that and not surprisingly, I feel a little happier.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You know, the Grinch is an underrated anti-hero. He is making a point (albeit, a larcenous one) that we could all do with fewer spangles and who-trumpets!

    Let us all aim to find our happy place with less fanfare and more sincere appreciation!

    That said, I have a billion cookies to frost. Have a happy, quiet non-holiday.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Something I’ve heard said about the holidays is that if you do them right and get the right feeling you’ll get hungry for it and want the same feeling through the year.
    So, yeah, whatever makes you happy is the right way to celebrate.


    1. We get so blasted by what the holidays should look like that it takes some mettle to turn inward and find what you would enjoy most. I always think it’s taken me a long time to figure that out, but if I look back, I see that I practiced it early on. Maybe I’ve just learned to do it without self-doubt now.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m right there too Michelle. It’s taken a number of years of sifting through the pile and tossing a lot of material detritus and a lot of meaningless rituals. Now, having stepped away from it as far as I have, I find myself observing and contemplating meaning and expectations and asking what true simplicity is. It’s not found in any magazine, that is for certain. I’ve always been one to resist social pressure to conform and have discovered that there is freedom in finding our own way. To each his own is easier too, and I don’t feel judgmental or smug, just accepting. Peace and joy to you and yours however you choose to celebrate.


    1. I have to admit to feeling a little repulsed by some holiday practices, but I keep it to myself (usually). To each, their own. I hope that you have a peaceful holiday with small joys and inner content – it seems like a small thing to ask, but I think it takes some force of will to attain. Best wishes to you Ilona!

      Liked by 2 people

  5. It certainly is difficult to go into the holidays with a recent loss. This time can be stressful for so many reasons, most especially big expectations. I appreciate simple joys during the holidays. I don’t do stress. We don’t buy big, expensive gifts. It’s enough just to be together with my husband and two daughters. I’m wishing you and your family joy and peace now and in the new year.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. You were one of the first writers I discovered when I started blogging a few years back. Life has so many occasions for highs and lows… and the holidays are one such variation. I’m happy that your thoughtful, caring self has found a way to shine through this season.
    Wishing you happy jammie days with you and yours.


    1. Thanks, Nancy. Jammie day was lovely. I expect to repeat it on New Year’s! Thanks for following along and reading my posts. As much as writers like to say they write for themselves, it would be a less fulfilling experience without readers. One of my upcoming intentions is to reconnect with the blogging community – it’s been one of those years where I’ve done more writing than reading. In that vein, I’ve followed your blog and look forward to reading your posts. Wishing you a healthy and happy new year!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Oh this sounds so lovely. You’ve found your Christmas pace. We’ve also had a wide variety of Christmases where we did something completely different, or nothing at all, or alternatively joined the family hoards. Hiding upstairs in our airbandb bedroom while 3 adults and 4 children cavort downstairs either cooking or playing and definitely making a lot of noise we are glad to be able to pace ourselves and choose when and whether to join the fray. There are 5 more adults and 2 more children expected. When they arrive we will no doubt descend and make merry, even genuinely. But for now it’s nice to be able to hide.
    Merry Christmas Michelle.


    1. Hope you found your balance between hiding and making merry, Alison (as we introverts often try to do). Our day passed peacefully and I’m genuinely excited about the year ahead, so am happy to get back into the regular groove of life. Wishing you a lovely new year!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I’m sorry to hear about your mother-in-law. I’m still re-inventing the holidays after the deaths in my family. Now there is nobody at the center of my Christmas but me! I’ve gotten used to it and now enjoy playing it by ear – this year I went to a dozen parties, a Cmas Eve dinner and candlelight service, and two different homes on Cmas day. Last year I stayed home alone w/ my cats and read. Both were fine because they were my own choice. How come it takes us so long to learn these things?? Sending you love & happy wishes for the new year. Enjoy!


    1. I think it takes some incredibly strong will to push back on all the schmaltz and sentimentality propagated by this culture (while doing quite barbaric things to immigrants and the planet). Gratitude is for the fact that we eventually got here, right? Wishing you a lovely new year as well!


  9. My sympathies on the loss of your mother-in-law. We suffered from years of a private loss.

    Eventually, we saved enough to travel to places like Thailand and Hong Kong. We believed we could escape the Western world’s obsession with commercialism. At times, we visited a Buddhist monestary, a silk dying factory, etc. during winter holidays.

    One visit I felt shocked that other American and British visitors had ordered a full turkey dinner. As we walked by that group heading to a Thai supper, half a dozen local children sat with feet tucked under, in costume.

    They had been taught and drilled in Christmas carols. Barely recognizable, a bizarre version of Dashing Through the Snow twisted their tongues.


    1. Thank you for your condolences.

      It’s a gift to be raised in a culture, with beliefs and expectations, and then one day to realize that we can make entirely different choices and the world won’t tilt on its axis (well, any more than it’s supposed to).

      Wishing you a happy 2019!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Hardest part for me was to smile when I am grieving. (sigh) I ask myself, what can I do to diffuse my lonely and vacuumed heart? And the 2018’s holiday was one of those days I wish was deleted from the calendar. After all the merry and noise making, I go back to my room to write and reflect on lost love and the helplessness of being alone. Counting fingers and trying to be visual to see how far I have gone, I look forward to what 2019 brings .. almost five months, but I still feel the loss. I write to keep myself busy. I try to learn how to do CSS & Html. I hug my dogs at night to keep me comforted. Happy New Year.


    1. I spent the first 30 years of my life mostly adrift. Relationships always seemed to conveniently end before holidays or birthdays or somebody else’s wedding, so I had plenty of time to reflect on being alone. Now with a family, I look back on those times as some of my most creative times. I was broke as well, so arts and crafts really were made from scraps and not kits. I didn’t have a computer, but I’d load up with books and videos from the library. I learned a lot.
      Losses seems to be more keenly felt around holidays. Perhaps that is why I tend to spend any special event in a very low-key manner. And animals are a blessing. I spent 14 years with a Scottie, who I still miss. Now I have cantankerous cats, but they have their own sort of charm. I hope that you find moments of joy and contentment in the new year!


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