I Saw Mommy Flipping Off Santa Claus
On facing the holidays when you feel like the Grinch
“It’s been a long December.” —Adam Duritz, probably on or around December 6th
Hello, lovers, it’s December. In many places, it’s the coldest, darkest time of year, the time of year that has you looking at your phone to confirm that, yes, the moon is indeed out at 3:57 PM. It is also the time of year that the pressure to feel and express (dare I say, choose?) JOY is at an all-time high. That’s right, motherfuckers, it’s almost Jesus’ Santa-themed birthday party, which means it’s time to be happy and festive and go broke while wearing an ugly sweater and listening to Wham! and watching a tree die slowly in your living room. Haters with seasonal affective disorder to the left.
Contrary to the extremely bitchy tone of the above paragraph, I love the holidays… in theory. I love the music, I love the movies, I love the twinkling lights, I love the gift-giving and the tree trimming, the menorah lighting and the Kwanzaa songs that slap way harder than most Christmas carols. But my favorite part of the holidays is the promise of transformation through the power of belief—the deeply held conviction that underneath all of the commercial trappings of the holiday season, there is true magic in the air that will reveal itself if only you maintain an open heart and a grateful spirit. The holiday movie scene that best embodies my specific brand of mental illness is near the end of Elf, when a group of New Yorkers standing in Central Park singing a very off-key rendition of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” powers Santa’s sleigh to fly, astounding the jaded crowd. I cry at this scene every year. It plucks a specific heartstring for me, something tender and childlike: it’s not just okay to still believe in magic, it’s essential. Believing keeps you alive to yourself and the world.
Of course, this is much easier said than done. It is ludicrous to expect to feel happy and joyful and festive based on a calendar date and not on the often mercurial landscape of your own life circumstances and emotions. It is also extremely understandable to not be inclined to believe in magic when the prognosis of the planet seems terminal and we are almost into year four of a global pandemic that has killed millions and changed life as we know it. Santa eats cookies and delivers toys, which is nice and all, but it’s not really enough to distract from the rise of (checks notes) Nazism in American politics. And, even if you can manage to compartmentalize all of the terrifying current events we’re living through, the simple societal pressure to feel good on holidays often makes it that much more likely that you won’t—hence the crying on birthdays, fighting on anniversaries, or inability to fully relax on vacations (just me?). The winter holidays come at the end of the year, when many of us are reflecting on what the fuck we’re doing with our lives. So I think it’s OK to walk into Target to do some Christmas shopping and be overcome with the urge to smash a decorative serving tray that reads “Merry & Bright” in that cursive font that has become the calling card for toxic positivity. Like, don’t actually smash it, but it’s natural to want to.
I’m worrying as I write this that it’s coming off too dark. I’m not clinically depressed, and I know how good my life is. I often feel thankful, happy, and content, but I’m always confused when that happiness turns out to be just a feeling, like any other feeling: ephemeral and unpredictable. I think this is because I’ve spent most of my life believing that being happy was like finding nirvana: an achievable endgame, a relief from suffering that could be enjoyed forever if I made the correct life choices and maintained a positive attitude. Now I think being happy is more like catching a firefly in a jar: delightful, surprising, and destined to be let go. That feeling, when I can sit with it, is so freeing. Happiness feels better than sadness or anger, but it doesn’t behave differently. This, too, shall pass—and come back, and pass again, and come back again. We’re at the mercy of the waves of our emotions, and our job is to remember that even if we can’t swim, we can float.
You might be catching on by now that if my writing in this newsletter has any coherent theme (debatable) it’s “stuff I need reassurance about.” Previously, I couldn’t help but wonder, is it OK to care about social media, but also not take it too seriously? Yes. Is it OK to have a marriage that’s sometimes fun and sometimes not? Yup. Is it OK to want Billy Crystal—or, maybe, a younger Billy Crystal type—to declare his love for me on New Year’s Eve? I mean, maybe? IDK. That one’s a little weird. And so, as I come up to the anniversary of starting this Substack, I am telling myself, and you, that it’s OK to be a big hot holiday mess, like a Bûche De Noël that ends up looking like a giant dog turd. You can get excited for the holidays and still manage to forget, year after year, that they won’t be enough to get your sleigh off the ground, so to speak. You can dance around the living room to Mariah Carey and cry to Joni Mitchell, like Emma Thompson in the only good scene from Love Actually*. You can be sad wearing buffalo plaid. I promise you are allowed. I give you my personal permission.
I truly wish you all a warm, safe, loving, delicious holiday season full of FEELINGS. Remember, next year all our troubles will be out of sight if we manage to move all of our money to an offshore tax haven and finally get that counterfeit passport.
*Last year I made a video claiming the Bill Nighy storyline was the only good part of Love Actually, which I now rescind. But I stand by the rest of it:
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