Did you have a good Thanksgiving? 

I had Friendsgiving here, which was just fantastic. No pressure, no pain, no stress, no guilt . . . No weight gain, either, because I feasted with other health nuts, and we ate in moderation. I feel warm, but not puffy. Full of peace, but not bloated. Satisfied, and not even a little gassy. Wins all over the place.

My love returned from the parents’ place down South with tales of tension. Of course there were good moments, too, but altogether too much stress. And he gained three pounds in three days, which is sort of scary.

My parents are both gone now, and my siblings are on either coast, so the Midwinter Holidays can be entirely my own. I do what I want to do, when I want to do it. Michael and I celebrate the Midwinter Solstice, because it’s an astronomical event that actually happens, and there are myriad traditions to draw upon for inspiration about how to celebrate. Most of them involve decorating trees, giving presents, and having a good shag, believe it or not. Done, done, and hello sailor.

I usually have a good hang out with my son, and then do some kind of Longest Night celebration at home. I haven’t stayed up all night since I was in my late teens or early 20s. I was chronically sleep deprived for much of my life, so staying awake intentionally is not something I am willing to do. At all. Ever. Knowing me, I will go to bed at 10 and be up by 2 anyway.

Druids have a tradition of staying up all night around a fire talking. I like this tradition, or at least the idea of it, but . . . I would be sick for a week if I actually did it. So I don’t.

My dad used to make a huge pot of wassail every Yule, and for years I carried that tradition on. I love the sharp spice and the sweet fruitiness, the little kick and the radiating warmth. I love the house smelling like pears, oranges, cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon as the wine comes up to temperature. But drinking wine now makes my head hurt so bad I can’t function, so this is a tradition that I will let go of this year. Maybe I will get some kind of juice and fake it. Maybe not. Seems kind of like trading water for chocolate, doesn’t it?

We have another tradition that we sometimes ignore, but honestly, I like this one best. It is to hand-make or thrift-shop our gifts. To go out of our way to find things that are totally unique and really reflect the person we are gifting. I didn’t start acquiring presents quite early enough – or making them – to pull this off this year. It’s been a freakin’ whirlwind, as you may have noticed if you’ve been keeping up with this blog at all.

What exactly is the point of this rather rambling essay on how to blow off every tradition there is? 

The point is, this time of year ends up being a clusterfuck for so many people, and it doesn’t have to be that way. It is okay to set some boundaries, to tell people no, to bow out and have a break from the world. We can choose to limit our participation. And maybe there will be hurt feelings and outrage, but you know what? It’ll blow over. And if it doesn’t, well, that’s educational, isn’t it? Inflexibility and rigid adherence to “the way we do things” is a symptom, not a celebration. Cut yourself some slack even if you have to use a chainsaw.

My parents took full advantage of my weak constitution when I was a little, and told their families that there would be no traveling for us because they didn’t want me ending up in the hospital with pneumonia another year. I spent more than one Christmas in the ICU, and that was plenty for all of us, thank you very much. So we stayed home, and Mom made her amazing Oh Boy Waffles, sausages, bacon and eggs, and we’d open our presents and hang out like a family. Even after my siblings moved out (they were several years older than me) we kept Waffle Day going for many years.

When my son was born, I told our parents that if they wanted to see him on Christmas, they needed to come to us-and they did. It was great. We’d just hang out and play with the kiddo, and it was wonderful not having to worry about bundling him up and hauling a bunch of stuff around.

Boundaries are useful, healthy, and empowering. 

Let’s look at this rationally for a minute. Christmas, in the Northern Hemisphere anyway, is usually a pretty foul time of year to travel. We can have snow and bitter cold, or be fogged in for days. December seems to come with ice storms in recent years, at least here in Iowa, and that’s more kinds of fun than I can tell you. The weather for most of the continental US is just plain iffy. Traveling is incredibly stressful and the added risk of hazardous weather is not helpful.

It’s also cold and flu season, and people who fly are likely to pick up something awful on the plane and take it home to share with their families. The year before I moved in with Michael, his niece picked up a violent flu on the airplane, and 7 people were stuck at his house being incredibly sick for over a week. It was a nightmare. Never again the barfing times.

There are those who say Jesus is the reason for the season, but this celebration is far, far older than that. The reason for the season is that the Earth is tilted. We orbit the Sun on a planet that is tilted at a 23.5 degree angle to the plane of its orbit, meaning at one half of the year the Northern Hemisphere is closer to the sun than the Southern Hemisphere, and for the other half it is further away. The Sun appears to move in the sky from the Tropic of Cancer to the Tropic of Capricorn and back again, giving us four distinct seasons in many parts of the world. The Earth has been tilted for about 4.5 billion years, ever since Theia, an object roughly the size of Mars, decided to try to share the same orbit with Earth, and collided catastrophically, taking a giant chunk out of Earth and creating our Moon. It took a very long time for Earth to stabilize enough for any sort of life to develop, and a very very long time after that for the kind of intelligence that notices the movement of objects in the sky to develop, but let’s just say for the sake of argument that 200 thousand years ago, give or take, some bright spark happened to notice that the sun wasn’t coming up in the same place every morning, and was in fact getting further and further away every day. “Hey, we have to do something to get that hot shiny thing to come back – let’s set some shit on fire and sing to it.” And thus religion was invented.

Set yourself some boundaries and snuggle in if you are so inclined. But no matter how you choose to celebrate, take a little time to think about what traditions you find yourself blindly adhering to that you might be able to let go of in the interest of giving yourself some room to breathe. The Holidays are, according to the late Sir Terry Pratchett, supposed to be “jolly, with mistletoe and holly, and other things ending in olly.”* Clusterfuck does not end in “olly.”


*Hogfather; Pratchett, 1997.

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