It is The Season. The season to be merry, jolly, overeat, over drink, over indulge in ways we normally wouldn’t nor shouldn’t. It’s also a season of undue, self-inflicted, unnecessary stress.
The stress that the turkey or ham won’t cook in time for Christmas dinner, the stress of in-laws visiting, the crazy uncle, the cousin who doesn’t wash on a regular basis and you hope that for Christmas, they, out of some sense of decency for The Season, they’ll wash and show up in a presentable manner.
During The Season, we are pressured into having around or being around people we don’t like and normally would do anything to avoid, but because it’s The Season, we must, out of some arbitrary sense of goodwill and obligation, tolerate people we don’t like, even if it’s just for one or two days. I think this is the stress that irritates people the most. It’s also what ultimately gets to me.
People work themselves into a frenzy over food, wines, spirits, seating charts, whom to invite and being a diplomat to avoid blow ups. But why? Christmas holidays apart isn’t it hypocritical to be nice to someone you usually don’t have time of day for the other 364 days of the year? This mentality is not unique to Christmas. This mentality is prevalent in the Chinese New Year holiday every year too. Growing up, my grandmother banned us (yes, she physically and verbally banned us) from having a cross word or unkind feelings against another person, especially people in our family. Any whisper of complaint about someone we don’t like, she’d immediately hush us and say ‘It’s New Year, stop it.’ The reason for this are many. First, it’s considered bad luck or inauspicious to wish bad thoughts on others or oneself during this annual almost sacred holiday. Second, it’s also a holiday promoting togetherness and family harmony. Specifically in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and any other country where a dominant Chinese population is present, people get 7 to 10 days paid vacation during Chinese New Year for the sole purpose of allowing people to return to their families and celebrate the new season (Spring) and new Year. Thirdly, it’s a ‘new year’, it’s also a time of renewal. Out with the old and in with the new and this includes emotional baggage, grudges, unkind thoughts and feelings towards oneself and others; failure to do this can bring the bad baggage and the bad luck associated with it with us into the new year.
So Americans whipping themselves up into a holiday frenzy of trying to appease everyone and be the best host possible is understandable to me. But how much of it is driven by unrealistic expectations from society and commercial marketing of how a ‘good’ Christmas should look? We all sigh and moan about our in-laws or the creepy uncle who tells racist jokes when he’s drunk, but yet, we still bust our behind to make everyone happy, even at the expense of ourselves. As a hostess for several Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, I fell victim to this. On top of making sure my house is perfectly decorated, tidied, all the lights on, making sure the food and drinks are in order, by the time the guests arrive and we are ready to enjoy the food I prepared, I just want to call it a night with Netflix and a bottle of wine on my nightstand. I realize that everyone is having fun except me, which is what the aim of every good hostess is, making sure all of her guests are happy. As a young unmarried woman, I fancied myself a mini-Martha Stewart hosting fabulous dos and get togethers, when I became a married woman with a house to which I can host parties in, I realized I liked idea of being a Martha Stewart more than the reality of being a Martha Stewart. I was rubbish at hosting people I didn’t know well. I am not a natural conversation starter and I find myself refilling my wine glass too often hoping the evening would pass faster.
My idea of a good Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner is a potluck style dinner with lots of wine with my closets friends, people I’ve known a long time, where I don’t need to stay on neutral topics and avoid discussion of politics and controversial subjects, where we can get rowdy and loud without judgment and do and say as we please. This is precisely what I did for this Thanksgiving, it was the best one I’ve had in years. For Christmas we’ve been invited to a relative’s home where other guests might include a corporate lawyer and police officer. I am deciding if I should do the polite thing and stay on neutral topics or go nuclear. I am trending towards the latter.