Maybe you celebrate Christmas. Maybe you observe Chanukah, or Kwanzaa, or Omisoka or a pre-Christian festival like Yule. Or maybe none of the sectarian holidays resonate with you, so you simply ride things out until New Year’s. However you handle it, the month of December is freighted with associations, whether gleeful or oppressive, for pretty much everyone in the Western hemisphere. It’s an intense time, isn’t it?

Unless you live in the Antipodes where it’s surfing season, the old year goes out like a dying star, erupting in light against the growing darkness. Right around the corner looms a new year, ripe with promise but also  full of the unknown. The nights are long and dark, the days short and crammed with a whole lot to do.

No wonder so many of us feel torn between the impulse to party and the need to cocoon.

When my kids were young, I approached Christmas like an event manager. It took months of planning and shopping and decorating and gift wrapping. School pageants, work gatherings and cocktail parties competed for space on a complex social calendar, and there was nearly always travel involved. Plus it was cold and flu season, so making it through all the bedlam with everyone upright and non-contagious was dicey.

Those Christmases were wonderful, but I’m happy to pass the torch and join the cozy elders sitting on the sidelines holding a cup of eggnog. I get a big kick out of all the lights everybody else puts up. In a way, stepping out of the executive producer role at the holidays lets me recapture a little of the childlike delight of the season.

And it allows me to slow down and acknowledge that this time of year brings a certain amount of melancholy. There are empty seats at the table, once filled by loved ones who have passed on. My kids live four states away, and it’s rare these days that we are able to celebrate together. The ghosts of Christmases past visit me, making me grateful and wistful and prone to welling up at the more maudlin holiday songs drifting out of the speakers eev-rywhere I go.

When that happens, I know it’s time to chill out and re-anchor myself in the here and now. Memories are great, but they are fickle things, and it’s easy to lose the magic of the present moment when I’m mired in nostalgia. I don’t want to miss out on the fun of watching others experience their first, or tenth, or thirty-ninth Christmas.

How do you navigate this time of year? Please chime in, and may your holidays — whatever they may be, and however you celebrate them — be merry and bright.


  1. I too tend to get mired down in nostalgia this time of year. I remember days gone by when I felt the obligation for dinners and parties, presents and schedules. When our children are little and our parents are present, we have to juggle families and try not to step on anyone’s toes at the holidays. I am happy to sit back and let someone else be in charge now. 2 of my 3 children (and their wives) will be here this Christmas and 2 of my 3 grandchildren. That is plenty of joy for me. Happy Holidays, Jan. So glad I got to know you this year!

  2. Hi Jan, we are approaching the years where we will sit on the sidelines with an eggnog, but not quite. So there is still travel, including picking up kids from college and going away on Christmas day. Still, we have reduced our level of activity and have enjoyed a simpler schedule, and a much smaller tree! I hope you had a nice holiday. Happy New Year to you!

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