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Will you be having a truly merry Christmas?*

I know people’s secrets. Even the things people don’t tell their best friends. Even the things they find it hard to admit to themselves.

It comes with my job. People tell me what’s really going on. How they really feel about having had children, about their marriages, about their lives. And about their Christmases. The stuff you never see on Facebook.

In the holiday season it’s as though we all get caught up in a tornado of expectations, habits, and pressures. We march along doing what we’ve done and what we feel we’re supposed to do.

One thing that is not so much of a secret is how stressful all this is. The rushing around. The search for the “perfect” present multiplied for all the people you have to buy that perfect present for. The endless effort to put on a cheerful appearance when you don’t feel it. The near-constant exhaustion. The pile-up of conflicts where pleasing one person means disappointing or offending another. Phew!!

But that’s not the worst, says me, Grinch-like. Except I’m not being a Grinch. I don’t want to spoil Christmas at all. Just the opposite!! I want the holidays to be better! I’m just reporting, reporting!, on how Christmas and the holidays as a whole have been spoiled already, according to folks who tell me their real feelings. And it’s not just me, of course. All my colleagues say more or less the same thing.

There are, for most people, two huge sources of the unhappy Christmas they feel they can’t talk about.

The first is disappointment. This comes from two sources.

One is that we feel we put in more than we get out. This is particularly true for women who have more than our share of the burden for organizing, running around, thinking of everything, making things happen, getting people to do stuff, making things nice, swallowing our feelings.

The other is sky-high expectations. The media are super-saturated with blow-out images of Christmas joy, Christmas bliss, orgasmic Christmas. Social media too. Everyone will just luh-uh-uhv their present. The kids, for once, will be so filled with the Christmas spirit that they’ll find a way to put aside their bickering and self-absorption and instead just be nice and cooperative. Dad will find his way away from the TV.

But it doesn’t work out like that. Christmas is plus stress plus a short-lived attempt to be on good behavior plus the crash when that falls apart.

The second source of Christmas unhappiness is that there’s no you in it. Well, maybe some of you. But there are things you are needing desperately, longing for, that you feel you can’t even ask for. That you might feel ashamed to ask for. What have people told me are their secret Christmas wishes?

Here are some examples:

  • To do way less.

  • To do nothing.

  • To go away.

  • To be by themselves.

  • To not have this or that person or family come anywhere near the Christmas festivities.

  • To take all that stupid present-buying money and buy something that would be really meaningful or life changing.

  • To get a divorce.

  • To stop being religious.

  • To become more religious.

  • To finally be totally honest about certain things.

Notice: these things are radical. They are not business as usual. They upset people who say they want things to be just as they were (but who, of course, have their own secret wishes!). And they are the kinds of things people are too often ashamed to put forward.

And as a result we suffer—with super-cheery smiles—through not-so-cheery Christmas. All because keeping up a front and not causing a ruckus is more important than anyone actually finding true happiness. Who needs true happiness? We can just perform the illusion of it!

* And by Christmas, I mean, of course, the holidays. Christmas if you call it Christmas, holidays if that's what you call it. I'm talking about the now world-wide phenomenon that people get all excited about and caught up in, all according to their traditions. In some traditions, people don't get excited at all!


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