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Something strange is happening to me this holiday season.
I’m not dreading the holidays.
Sure, I notice the waning sunlight, and how the sky goes dark just after 4 p.m. I feel the waves of anxiety telling me I’d better get going on my holiday shopping, that I’m behind.
But I feel a sense of peace, too.
I’ve struggled with feeling low during the December holidays for decades. It started when my brother died, then intensified when a close friend died just before Christmas a few years later. When my dad died in 2019, my holiday dread again amplified—my dad had been my fellow holiday Grinch, and the season felt acutely bleak without him.
This year, I feel different.
Maybe it’s because I’m not in the raw, fresh space of a super recent loss. Maybe it’s that life is simply really good right now—my kids are healthy and at fun ages, and my husband and I are in a sweet spot. Maybe it’s because the past few years have been so exceptionally difficult for so many of us that it feels like the incessant holiday pressure to be jolly has finally subsided. Like we’ve reached a consensus that the holidays are charged and challenging, and we can stop pretending they’re not.
Or perhaps it’s simply that I’ve walked through this season enough times that I’ve accepted its inherent bittersweetness, and I’ve learned how to make things a little easier.
If that’s the case, I feel obliged to share a few practices that have helped soften the holiday blues:
Accept darkness as the baseline.
In the northern hemisphere, December is literally the darkest time of the year. This dearth of daylight is actually the origin story behind many of our winter holidays—they began as rituals that allowed us to mark the dark days and remind ourselves that light will, again, return. The fact that the holidays, at least in western culture, have morphed into orgies of consumerism and sugar binges is odd, and it’s okay to remind ourselves of this often.
When we expect the season to be dim and difficult, it’s easier to adjust to the darkness.
Bring in the light.
If you love candles or fairy lights, this is the time to light ‘em up. Besides being super cozy, the lights also serve as a visual reminder of the inherent darkness of this time of year.
Instead of Christmas music, listen to this.
The holidays can be brutal when we’re grieving. We might be haunted by memories of happier years, or we simply feel the weight of the immense pressure to be merry instead of mourn-y. When I’m grieving, I find solace in knowing I’m not alone. Part of what makes grief hard is the sense that our individual world has skidded to a halt while the rest of the universe frolics along, eating movie nachos and scrolling Instagram. Our culture doesn’t handle grief well; it basically shoves it into a box, tosses the box off an overpass, leaving it to land in a lonely, weed-filled field.
But grief is a normal, universal response to death and loss. If we live and love long enough, we can’t help but encounter seasons of deep grief. After my dad died, I found comfort in listening to podcasts like Cariad Lloyd’s wonderful Griefcast or Lemonada Media’s Good Grief. Hearing other people’s stories of loss helped me feel accompanied in my pain.
Write a holiday letter about how things really are.
Most of us have been the recipients of holiday letters that brim with the glossy highlights of someone’s year. If you’ve got a dark streak like I do, you might’ve wondered what’s lurking beneath the shiny, “good vibes only” veneer. Try writing your own holiday letter about all the worst parts of your year. Detail the fights with friends, the stubbed toes, the vicious waves of perimenopausal mood swings. Don’t hold back—really let loose as you annotate the absolute crappiest parts of your year. If nothing else, it will probably feel cathartic, and might even leave you with a few chuckles as you imagine unsuspecting loved ones receiving your unpolished, newsy note. Sometimes the simple act of acknowledging that we’re surfing through a particularly sh*tty season can feel validating.
Pile on the self-care.
Over the years, I’ve trained myself to be kinder and gentler with myself. I work less in December so that I can have more space to honor difficult anniversaries, the waning light, and the fact that my body wants to hibernate. I’ve learned to incorporate more yoga, read more and take long bubble baths. I keep things as simple as possible.
Allowing December to be a reflective, slow-paced time leaves me feeling more grounded and present. I’m even having a strange urge to do crafts. Surprising things happen when we lean into what is real and true for us.
I wish you a strong, stretchy heart capable of holding all the hues of the season, and specks of light to help see you through the dim nights.