Christmas makes everything twice as sad. -- Douglas Coupland
I've seen Santa Claus cry. No, not at the movies or in a boyhood dream but in the living room of a good friend at Christmas Eve. And not tears of joy from giving the perfect gift or bringing a shriek of delight to a little child. No, I'm talking about tears of emotional distress as all those in the room stood an awkward, silent vigil, watching the drama unfold.
As we get older it's an unavoidable fact that Christmas for most people changes in dramatic ways. It has been said by one philosopher that there is no sadder feeling than waking up on Christmas morning and not being a child. But as children grow into adults, complete sometimes with their own children and spouses, Christmas family gatherings can often get more complicated. And why not? Our humanity, with all its ambiguities and angles, doesn't transform on command for one special day. That, of course, doesn't keep us from trying.
My friend's plan seemed a good one. He had invited a group of family and friends to his house for a grand Christmas Eve celebration. The highlight of the evening was to be a grand entrance of our host, fully suited as Kris Kringle as his dad had done during his childhood. My friend unfortunately had been visiting the Christmas punch bowl with the regularity of a moth to a flame. When Santa came bounding into the living room, it was readily apparent that he was now completely drunk. While all in the room watched, Mrs. Claus lit into her husband with the veracity of a spouse who had already spent one too many mornings dealing with this behavior. "You've ruined Christmas for these children!" she thundered. "They will never forget what you did!" As I watched the tears stream down his face, I couldn't help but think that considering her anger, that was probably true.
Psychologists call it holiday regression when adults -- sometimes literally -- return to an earlier stage of ego development. Sometimes that can be fun as you reconnect to the joy you felt as a small child. Sometimes it can mean a return to passive-aggressive behavior with your friends or siblings. And often it can mean an unrealistic expectation of how the day should be. Our memories of special Christmases past are uncluttered by the reality that Dad was up half the night assembling that doll house and Mom cooked all day.
A grandfather in his 70s put it best to me last week. "You know I love my kids and grandkids. I love having them come over Christmas Day. But you know what? Last year they were so lazy, they didn't even throw their paper plates away! And cleaning the kitchen afterwards? Not one helped!" He then concluded, "You know what I'm doing this year? Taking them all to Golden Corral. They make good food, everybody gets what they want, and I don't have to clean up nothing!"
Perhaps a better way is to commit to what psychotherapist Meredith Hines calls "an adult posture" to counter the emotional reversion to childhood. This includes talking in your adult voice and standing up straight. If that doesn't work, I have just two other remedies for holiday stress: I hear Golden Corral puts out a good spread. And remember, moderation is the adult thing to do.
NAN Our Town on 12/26/2019