If you’re reading this, you made it. You survived the parties and small talk and engagement photos and cheery music. You’re free of all the reminders that you’re lonelier than you realized, that your life is not progressing the way you thought it would. Lights on an evergreen tree will cease to torture you with their warm glow, conjuring memories of love now cold.
I hate Christmas. Not theoretically, but in practice. Ten Christmases ago my mom had just died and I was with my father, brother, and a big cheery group of family friends. I had baked a million things and received a million presents, and honestly felt kind of all right, distracted by the hubbub and sparkle of a million people around. It wasn’t until later, when I was suddenly doubled over and dry-heaving in the guest bathroom, that the thought occurred to me that I might not be as all right as I had imagined.
Christmas has been some form of a nightmare ever since. It brings all the painful realities to the surface, glow and glitter scraping old wounds raw. It reminds me I don’t have a home to go to. It reminds me there isn’t someone at the other end of the phone. It reminds me that I used to have a warm, loving family and I don’t anymore.
I’ve spent most of the last decade’s Christmases in someone else’s living room, crowded around someone else’s family tree. I’ve been taken in by kind and generous friends and strangers, given gifts and asked polite questions. I am incredibly thankful, and luckier than most. But still, I sit in my car and wait for the swelling pit to ease. I avoid the music, distract myself from the movies on TV. I stayed up a few nights ago, working on a puzzle in a fury, unable to go to bed until it was done. As I sat cross-legged on the floor of the darkened living room, listening to the 60s Italian music I love, I was hit with a wave of shaking melancholy seemingly out of nowhere. I had to stop.
This time of year is so bad, so hard. Songs about hurrying home for Christmas and movies about feeling known and loved emphasize the dissonance between my life and everyone else's. But that's the thing... Everybody's lonely. You are too, aren’t you? No matter how big your family, whether there's a ring on your finger or someone in bed beside you at night, we’re all a little sad, disappointed that we’re more alone than we thought we’d be.
I was struck the other day thinking about the Christmas story from the Bible. It isn't about a big, rowdy family dinner with shiny lights and piles of presents and laughing people in cashmere sweaters, it's about two people who are far from anything that feels like home, taken in by strangers and sleeping in a barn. It's about loneliness, and being in your hometown but not belonging, and finding yourself stuck, with just what you need to get by.
And it’s about how the people who change your life— who show up for you, take you in, recognize what you’re capable of and give you what you need— may be strangers. They may only stay for a short time. But that can be enough.
That's what we're celebrating. And that's a Christmas feeling I can relate to.