Thanksgiving was a day of talking a little too loudly, gesturing a little too broadly and experiencing all the good feelings of true belonging that we’ve missed over the past two years. It marked for us the first nearly normal family gathering since New Year’s Day 2020. We survived pandemic isolation with FaceTime, phone calls and lots of text messaging. But all the love and laughter, the unrestrained, unmasked bear hugs were, in a word, priceless.
My brother-in-law, sporting an impressive gray beard I’d never seen, looks and sounds more like his dad than ever. The tone of his voice, his easygoing mannerisms, even his posture reminded me of his late father. In a way it was almost as if part of him was still with us. That’s family. These familiar holiday rituals make it all the more apparent.
Some days I look in the mirror and see my father’s eyes staring back at me. I was always so grateful to have my mom’s looks. In my advancing years, my face labels me as my father’s daughter. In recent months, I distinctly hear my grandma’s laugh in my mother’s, and it brings me a smile.
That wisp of unruly hair, the almost-snarky tone, an overfilled glass or tendency towards tears were all inherited from experts and practiced with the brood over meals just like the one we shared at my sister’s this Thanksgiving.
Squeezed around the almost-large-enough table, we each took a moment to say what we were thankful for this year. On the dining room walls hung framed black and white photos of generations past that each of us shared.
“Grateful that I only have 20 more credits left of college,” “… to be alive,”“…that I joined the electricians’ union instead of going to college,” “…knock on wood no Covid,” “…my health, my family, my spouse, my children, oh, and of course our pets.”
There is so much to be thankful for. And setting aside a whole day to get together, whether with family or with friends and a roasted turkey with cranberry sauce is something to be thankful for in itself.
If you, like me and a few of my friends, struggle with depression you are not alone. This, however, is the season to prepare yourself for the “merriest” time of all. It’s dark, it’s frantic, it’s a time to feel left out without even trying.
I can say from experience that sharing your feelings with family or trusted friends can help even if they can’t relate or understand exactly what you’re going through. Depression can feel like a personal flaw, a dirty little secret best kept to yourself, but it certainly is not. Saying the words aloud, “I am hurting,” to another human being, even a perfect stranger on a call-in help line can bring some relief. And a little relief can be all it takes to make a difference.
A few tips from a practiced holiday survivor: Take it easy on the expectations, most especially of yourself. Taking a walk outside always helps so take every chance you get for some fresh air and movement. If you know someone who is struggling for any reason this season, reach out to check in on how they are doing. Helping someone else when you’re not feeling so great yourself can work wonders.
If you struggle with alcohol or other addictions, staying sober during the holidays can be quite the challenge. But stick with it — it eventually gets easier, as will your life. Again, acknowledging how hard it can be and talking about it in safe company is powerful medicine in itself.
Most cultures honor the darkest days of the year with rituals evoking renewal and rebirth. Our Advent calendar tradition, along with those of others, spreads the celebration over weeks instead of a single torn-wrapping-paper morning.
Our consumer culture becomes absolutely chronic in December, kicking off the holiday season with the aptly named Black Friday, leading into a month of shopping excess. Dark rainy days, crowded stores filled with (hopefully) masked shoppers anxious to find just the right presents to wrap and stuff under the tree. As for patience and common courtesy? Expect none and you may walk away pleasantly surprised.
The traditions we embrace, the things we do and make together will far outlast any mountain of store-bought gifts.
This year, I’ll be in my kitchen mixing butter, sugar, flour, nuts and cinnamon for my mom’s favorite Jänhagel Christmas cookies to share. I have all the ingredients ready to start baking loaves of Reni Moriarity’s fruitcake too.
My hope for you is a time filled with fun and games, love and happiness, comfort and peace.
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