This will be my last letter of 2019 — I’m taking a two-week break for the holidays, until January 7, 2020. Become a paid supporter of the Being Human Letters before the end of the year and get 20% off for one year! Use the link https://docayomide.substack.com/early to get started.
It’s that time of year again.
The time when everyone’s supposed to be happy and excited and some of us are most at risk of our lowest lows of the entire year.
Maybe precisely because we’re supposed to be happy and excited.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a grinch. Not mostly, anyway. I don’t hate Christmas. I just don’t particularly love it either. I don’t go out of my way to listen to Christmas music, or watch Christmas films, or do Christmassy activities. I don’t especially love Christmas carols and feel little sentiment or nostalgia about them. And it’s all a bit weird because I’m a practising Christian, so you’d think, you know, that I’d be down with the whole thing.
And truth be told, I do love what the Christian meanings of Christmas: the idea of the maker of the world entering into it, of the author writing himself as a character into his own story, the infinite one becoming limited to time and space — I find that just such a powerful idea. But I can — and often do — reflect on that any time of year, not just at Christmas.
So my disinterest in (and let’s be honest, low-key dread of) the holidays isn’t me being all spiritual about it or anything. Nor has it anything to do with the much hated (to listen to people rant about it) “consumerisation of Christmas.” It’s not really that deep. Buut I have a couple ideas about why it is.
But first, to be clear, I’m not proud of any of this. I’m not saying, “Oh look at me, I don’t care about Christmas like the rest of you silly sentimental people!” (A behaviour I find annoying, actually.) In fact, I enjoy watching people who love the holidays — I can at least enjoy their enjoyment even when I feel none of my own. I love seeing my wife listening to Christmas music, and I think when we have kids I’ll probably enjoy watching stuff with them. And I definitely take up invites to Christmas dos, and try to enjoy the company. I even make myself go to carols and sing my heart out, and although I dread it a little before going, I tend to mostly enjoy myself.
The point is, my disinterest in Christmas is more an accident of my personality than it’s a choice. I often joke about being a sort of Diet Grinch, but I really don’t see it as something to be proud of. Maybe it’s even a defect, although I’m not sure of that. More important to me, however, is why it is.
And I think it’s a combo of two things.
One is that I’m just not the kinda guy who is crazy about special days in general. I try to appreciate them when they’re special to others, but for myself, I don’t really care that much — they’re sort of just any other day. But I don’t think that’s a great thing, because I really do think there’s value in making some days special: it gives you the chance to use them differently, and that’s a good thing. So even though it’s not my natural inclination to, I try anyway.
The other reason, however, is that Christmas comes at the end of the year. And that’s a problem because while I don’t take special days seriously, I do take time periods seriously. And Christmas is a reminder that another 365 days are almost up and with that comes the dreadful feeling of having used them poorly and not having accomplished much of anything with the time. So I tend to get a bit low during Christmas, because while everyone is out here celebrating, I’m in there feeling like a bit of a waste.
But it’s not true.
It’s never true.
Not just because I’ve often done much more than I feel like, but because like with physical growth, you don’t really see emotional or personal growth when it’s happening. You often don’t even really appreciate it after it’s happened. You tend to appreciate both more when something else happens. With physical growth, that’s when you’re able to reach somewhere you couldn’t or see higher than you could, or realise your clothes don’t fit. With emotional or personal growth it’s when you respond differently than you would, or other people notice something different about you, or you realise some old relationships somehow just don’t fit anymore.
It’s simply never true that my year has been a waste.
And yet each year, I feel it again, just the same.
And so each year I have to remind myself, again, that how I feel doesn’t necessarily reflect the truth. And remind myself of the things that actually help me move forward. People I care about and who care about me. Things I’ve been able to do, and places I’ve been able to be. And this reminding happens in many ways: by writing down stuff I’ve done, by remembering (and where possible, recording) nice things people have said, by celebrating my wins (as a good friend pointed out to me this year I don’t do enough). Sure, there’s a lot that’s not happened as I hoped this year — but so has a lot of good stuff I didn’t even expect. Most of all: there’s always next year. Because every end is also a new beginning.
That’s part of the Christian meaning of Christmas after all: the divine born into the everyday.
Even if you don’t go for the faith, I think that’s a powerful idea: with every end comes a chance for a new beginning.
Up to us which we focus on.
Here’s wishing you new beginnings where you need them, in the coming year.
I leave you with these words from a song I listen to this time every year, by my favourite songwriter (video below):
Time is illusion
Time is a curse
Time is all these things and worse
But our time is now
Let us sing before our time runs out
— Jon Foreman, Before Our Time
Happy holidays to you and yours, and see you January 7.