When the Holidays Aren’t So Merry & Bright
We’ve all heard it before: Christmas—it’s the most wonderful time of year.
But when expectations meet reality, the holiday season isn’t always so holly jolly. At least, not for me anyway.
But it once was. When I was a child, Christmas brought me so much joy. Riding through the neighborhood and seeing all of the lights made me smile, holiday jams became the soundtrack to my life for a month and I could never sleep on Christmas Eve. The prospect of opening presents the next morning always stirred me up with excitement. During my childhood, Christmas truly was magical.
I guess since then, I’ve taken my rose-colored glasses off. Just call me Scrooge. It’s hard not to be cynical when the holidays become less of a wonderful time and more of a grind. Tests, projects, essays and work saturate my life. Lights don’t dance around campus like they did in my neighborhood, and the tree filled with all of my memories and shabby art is thousands of miles away.
Christmas for me it seems is one of the many things that has become tainted by my experiences and those awful growing pains I can’t seem to escape. I think less of Rudolph, Frosty and that silly Grandma and more of long retail hours and broken bank accounts.
I think about how life doesn’t stop—even for the holidays —and how a season about giving has become a two-month long capitalistic stunt.
The expectation is the worst part though. Christmas is supposed to be the most wonderful time of year, but what if you’re struggling? Christmas is a time for togetherness, but what if loneliness is your companion? I think the hype surrounding Christmas really magnifies what we are lacking as individuals. Not being happy when you’re supposed to be makes things so much worse. I guess what I’m saying is that our idealization of the holidays puts so much pressure on us—to be happy, to give the best gift, to never get down.
My first Christmas in college last year was strange. I still marveled at the tree, I still felt a pang of excitement in my stomach and I still curled up by the fire place. But there was also an overwhelming sense of dread, of childhood dreams slowly fading away, of real life setting in.
I haven’t really thought much about Christmas this year because I barely have time to think outside of my school work. But I will say, I don’t want my positive spirit toward the holiday to completely die out.
Maybe the dull ache I have just comes with the territory of being in college or growing up. Like with most things in life, this too shall pass. Or maybe Christmas will never be the same for me again. Either way, the lights will always be pretty, the cookies are always worth eating, Mariah Carey will collect checks for the rest of her life and I’ll always have my memories.
If you are feeling stressed this holiday season, here are a few resources:
UT Counseling & Mental Health Center: https://cmhc.utexas.edu/
24/7 Crisis Hotline (UT Students Only): 512-471-2255
Navigating the Holidays and Mental Health (our article & guide): http://www.burntx.com/2019/12/06/navigating-the-holidays-and-mental-health/