Mind Matters — ‘Tis the Season … for what, exactly?

“Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way, oh what fun it is to ride in a one-horse open sleigh, hey!” Such a cheery song to brighten our way through the holidays—despite the fact that many (not all!) of us despise snow and most (some do!) of us don’t have the discretionary funds for horse and sleigh. Be that as it may, the song conjures visions of a Currier and Ives Christmas—a trek to grandma’s house for hot cocoa and home-baked cookies.

That image intertwined with Hallmark moments can create overwhelming expectations of what the winter holidays “ought” to be versus what they realistically are.

Yes, this is the time of year when friends and families come together to share meals, give gifts. But it is also a time when whatever difficulties in families have lain dormant arise from their slumber (to the sound perhaps of those bells jingling).

Young adult children whose parents divorced long ago still try to figure out every holiday how they will divide their time among parents and step-parents. The wounds of the past never go away.

Family cutoffs don’t automatically get mended just because “it’s Christmas!” Scrooge may have listened to his ghosts of Christmas past and learned to make amends with those that he hurt, but some of us never take Charles Dickens’ message to heart, and so the family quarrel of twenty years ago that rended the family fabric might be even more tattered today.

Even without family cutoffs or divorce, there is still the inevitable pain of loss of friends and family members. Somehow, the holiday season makes grief all the more poignant. We celebrate with the living and we remember our loved ones who have died all the more.

We may try to run away from the hardest parts of the holidays. We may try to deny the bitter sweetness of it all by focusing on the decorations and the bright lights, and buying, buying, buying. But none of that can cover over our deepest longing for loving connection.

Some of us have been fortunate enough to have (or have had) loving family. Others of us are reminded instead of childhoods in which love was never freely given. Whatever our circumstances, we do ourselves a disservice when we deny our difficult emotions that arise with the holidays. We can actually embrace with joy the beauty of the season when we allow the unbidden feelings in. We may not be stepping out of a Currier and Ives painting or into a Hallmark moment, but we will feel much more at peace in ourselves.