On the Season’s Splendid Melancholy

My favorite aspect of Christmas that receives little attention is the sadness.

The popular images of Christmas are pure sugary fun: presents, excited children, cartoon specials, lights, etc. But I’d submit the real power of Christmas comes in the hushed melancholy. The cold ferocity of December’s weather. The quiet of Christmas day around town. The post-madness letdown. The absent loved ones. The forever absent loved ones. The haunting songs that take our hearts into different, difficult places and times. Memories of holidays that were, holidays that never were, and holidays that can never be.

Even for those surrounded by love, laughter, and life, the holiday carries with it a lugubrious, forlorn spirit that wrests about among the stockings, chocolate boxes, and mistletoe. Aside from the humble beginnings in a manger, as the story goes, our times with friends and family and our preparations for the coming new year inevitably lead to introspection and an accounting of ourselves. Despite the hustle and bustle of the season, many moments of the holiday slow us down, take us out of our busy routines, and invite this examination of more meaningful things, be they religious, philosophical, familial, or simply personal. The quite contemplation stands in stark contrast to the unbridled glee promoted as the standard-bearing emotion of the season.

It’s these moments that are the true gifts of Christmas. They dive deeper than superficial gifts, and exist in our hearts beyond temporal spaces illuminated by holiday lighting. It is intensely personal and private. Our time with friends, our time with family, our time outside our work and outside all else, orbiting around this time of year, tugging at us in new and different ways, harkening to those rarely visited parts of ourselves, full of hope and joy and sadness and comfort and pain and acceptance and otherwise.

No other holiday enjoys such an emotional range, and it’s this beautiful complexity that I love. And, thus, while many tear open their gifts with a rapacious desire, I’ll be savoring the moment. Surrounded by my family, seeing my friends, and being open to where the moments take me, in all their splendid melancholy.


On Party People

One of the best and worst aspects of getting older is those moments where your self-knowledge crystallizes into permanency. The tumblers of your inner-self fall into place, and you find yourself untethered from the exhausting search for self-identity. I’ve had a few of those moments, and I’d like to talk about one: I am not a party person.

You’ve met party people. Maybe you’re a party person. Party people always know the hottest new restaurant, the craziest new club, the most thrilling new art exhibit. And, they have lots of friends. I mean lots of friends. Their social media cup runneth over, and, for them, this is right and fitting. Friday and Saturday nights, as well every other night for that matter, the agenda is full. The invitations never end. The posts and pics attest to a life lived at a level of exhuberance befitting an epic poem. The fun never, ever, ever stops.

I find this all utterly exhausting.

Most evenings, as I head home, I smile knowing that the rest of my day will be spent in the company of one — my husband — and consist of dinner, good conversation, a book or entertaining television program, and a restful slumber. Peace and wonderful quiet. If this is boring, I must confess my guilt. My guilt without remorse. This is enough for me. This makes me happy, even more so knowing hubby feels the exact same way.

Parties suffer from their artificial nature. When you get a party invitation, what it’s basically saying is: come to this place at this time, and you will experience positive emotions! Well, what if my emotions don’t like being bossed around? What if my emotions can’t be bought so easily? Maybe you have to take my emotions out to dinner first. It’s really pretty pushy when you think about it. Hey, come over here, stuff some tiny food in your pie hole, engage in awkward conversation with people you barely know about things you barely care about, and have an absolute blast!

Okay, so maybe I’m exaggerating just a bit. I’ve gone to some fun parties, and I admit it. Still, in a world that’s more complex by the day, that continually invents new ways to be ever-more connected to people you barely know, I think it’s important to make a stand for quiet nights reading by the fire. For nights curled up in a blanket watching a great movie. For simply being still. For reflecting. For enjoying calm and peace.

It’s not a sexy social media moment. You don’t need any hors d’oeuvres or booze. You don’t have to RSVP. No one will be talking about it next week at work. But it is worth celebrating…all by your self.