I was parked at my third red light on the most terrible road in town, the one named after the shopping mall it abuts. Whenever I’m stuck in traffic on this road (which is every time I drive it, but especially during the holidays), I engage in my favorite socialist fantasy, “What if we raptured all the cars?” Imagine just waving a magic wand, and poof! Every automobile disappears. Of course the first thing I envision is every driver falling on their ass in the middle of the pavement, which may be funny but not the most pleasant start to my daydream. So then I imagine what we’d have instead — light rail trains heading east and west on one side of the boulevard and a lovely green space along the other. Solar powered high rises would fill space once devoted to strip mall parking spaces. We’d still have stores with all the useful things we need like clothes, groceries, pet food, and hardware. But the way we get to those places would feel completely different. To live in the United States is to drive these terrible, traffic-clogged roads and navigate massive parking lots so we can access affordable goods at Target, Walmart, and Costco. And then we sit in traffic and fill the sky with exhaust from these tiny tanks we need to get us there. So what if we got rid of the tanks and used trains, or even just lived a walkable distance from the places with useful stuff?
I sat in my car and wondered these things until the light changed to green, and then I made my escape. We’re a long way from seeing that massive infrastructural change we desperately need. I make these unpleasant pilgrimages to the useful places out of necessity. But in that moment I vowed to myself I would avoid those stores until after the new year. That’s a gift I’m giving myself this Christmas.
I hate capitalism and how it makes living here so hard, but I still manage to love the holiday season. I do this by being extremely intentional about savoring the good parts and shunning the bad. In fact, I tend to start with, “What nonsense will I refuse to entertain this Christmas?” Always at the top of the list — bad company. I don’t spend holidays with people I dislike. All this talk of “Oh no, how do I deal with my racist uncle’s Trump 2024 talk at Thanksgiving dinner?” I would simply not go to the dinner where that asshole is a guest. No judgment toward your mom or grandma or whichever maternal figure is doing the lion’s share of hosting the family gathering this year. (It is almost always the women doing everything. Don’t even get me started on that nonsense.) I get why families put up with their own jerks at the holidays, I just choose to not partake in that kind of social situation. Yes, this is a selfish choice and I stand by it 100%.
But that’s an old rule for me. And especially now that I have my own little family, I don’t even have to pretend to consider otherwise. We usually spend Christmas with just each other. This year I feel lucky this is our tradition and that we don’t have any plans to visit with distant family, because I see how massively stressed and disappointed so many folks are given the rise of the omicron variant. Now even the vaccinated have to worry about spreading this especially contagious strain of COVID to vulnerable loved ones. The safety calculus never seems to get easier, does it? If you are struggling with this pandemic development ruining your holiday plan to be with loved ones, my heart goes out to you. You deserve better.
On the other hand, if this presents a convenient excuse for you to avoid your racist Trump-loving uncle and other people you really don’t want to see, I say, “Run with it baby!” When the world is burning, we gotta take our breaks wherever we can find them. So for instance, when it is 70 degrees in December — as it has been, which is extremely disturbing — I’m gonna enjoy some long walks in the balmy breeze. So, so much bad is happening right now. Don’t feel guilty for enjoying any of the odd, unexpected benefits of an upside down yuletide season.
I love Christmastime, but I won’t lie. This one has been really tough for me. This fall I had a great job situation turn very sour. I’ve felt a growing sense of alienation as more of my human interaction has returned to Zoom. I feel depleted by the end of a long, exquisite autumn and the present nothingness of empty trees and anemic lawns. It’s like watching all the color drain out of a picture. I don’t write as often as I used to, because I’ve been too distracted by anxiety and sadness to feel any inspiration. Perhaps more than anything, I’m haunted by the fact that every one of my relationships has changed so much since the start of the pandemic. Some grew stronger, but many went the other way. It hurts my heart, especially in a season that is supposed to revolve around the warmth of human connection.
So I don’t pretend this is the most wonderful time of the year. In many ways, this Christmas really sucks. But I love my gaudy, fake tree with its garish, fatty bulbs more than ever before. One morning I was lying on the couch, feeling sad about the state of the world. My husband was leashing up the dog for a walk when he saw me reach for my phone. “No doom-scrolling,” he chided, and then he plugged in the tree lights. So I looked at its bright blue, green, red, and yellow glow instead of eyeballing the nonstop barrage of terrible news on Twitter. And I smiled.
This year the holidays are less about other people and more about savoring the flavor of eggnog spiked with rum, eating the stinkiest cheeses, watching the silliest holiday romcoms, shopping at thrift stores, and giving myself a very long break from Zoom. I’m removing the things I dislike most about this season and making room to heal from stress and sadness. I’m thinking more about eliminating the nonsense, so I have the energy to weather bad circumstances I can’t control.