12 holiday traditions that make us bitter
1) Non-stop Christmas music
Starting sometime around Thanksgiving, Christmas music will fill the air, and for the next few weeks it will form the soundtrack of your life. Wherever you go—shopping malls, office buildings, coffee shops—people will be singing about “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” and advising you to “have yourself a merry little Christmas.” Before long, all that relentless good cheer and sentimentality may start to get on your nerves.
On the other hand, Christmas music gives us an immediate emotional connection to the holidays, reminds us that their true purpose is “peace on Earth, goodwill toward men” (not crowded stores and airport delays), and provides a kind of shorthand that enables us to share those good feelings with the people around us—if we take the time to stop and listen.
Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is the biggest shopping day of the year. It’s a day when shoppers wait in long, pre-dawn lines for the chance to stampede through stores and shopping malls in search of unbeatable bargains, sometimes trampling each other in the process. It’s also a day when many retailers post a big percentage of their annual revenue. So much naked greed and materialism on display is enough to make anyone feel bitter.
On the plus side, the spirit of giving is still what motivates most people to suffer the discomforts and indignities of Black Friday, so maybe we should be thankful that there are so many people who want to surprise and delight the people they love. Sure, there are some who just want to score a big-screen TV for themselves, but our guess is they’re a pretty small minority. And face it, all that money changing hands is good for the economy.
Annual holiday letters
They arrive every year—as predictable and welcome as flu season—those holiday letters that offer us an intimate look at the mundane lives of people we haven’t bothered keeping in touch with during the rest of the year. When were personal, handwritten holiday greetings replaced by these photocopied form letters? Probably right around the time that conversation became obsolete and civilization started to crumble.
OK, so maybe you don’t need to review every detail of your cousin’s trip to Disneyland, but the fact is you no longer keep in close touch with many of the people you care about. And whose fault is that? Well, the truth is there’s probably plenty of blame to go around. Everyone is busy these days, and it seems we just get busier every year. Is it any wonder that a lot of people have decided to write one letter they can send to many people rather than lose touch altogether? At least they still care enough to keep you on their list. Be thankful for that.
Even people who love everything about the holidays are sometimes dismayed to see Christmas decorations pushing Halloween costumes and candy off store shelves by mid-October. And it seems like neighborhood streets and shop windows strike a holiday theme earlier every year. If things keep going the way they are, before you know it the summer solstice may mark the start of the holiday season.
Admit it, the first time each year that you see a street with bare trees glimmering with white lights or spot a shop window with an old-fashioned Christmas display, your heart gives a little leap. Try ignoring the obvious push to sell, sell, sell and focus instead on the early heralds of the holiday season that appeal to your inner child.
“Delicious fruitcake” is an oxymoron, and the perennial hope that one will eventually turn up is like the idea that the search for the Holy Grail will someday succeed:theoretically possible, but extremely unlikely. It’s bad enough that fruitcake seems to be an unshakeable holiday tradition, but the fact that people continue to serve it at parties and offer the cakes as gifts is almost unthinkable.
On the other hand, the earliest fruitcake recipe dates back to ancient Rome, and today fruitcake in some form is still consumed in countries all over the world, so the confection must have something going for it. If nothing else, it demonstrates the human capacity for collecting remnants and spare parts and turning them into something sweet.
The gratitude roundtable
This is one of those holiday traditions that sounds wonderful when you first hear about it, but often turns out to be so much less than you expected. Many families have adopted the practice, especially at Thanksgiving, of going around the table before the holiday meal and having each person share something for which they are grateful. But instead of an outpouring of good feelings, it often turns into an awkward search for the right thing to say or a string of sarcastic comments that undermine the whole idea.
If gratitude on demand isn’t your thing, that’s no reason to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Many studies by notable institutions have found that gratitude improves both mental and physical health and leads to greater happiness. So count your blessings. What have you got to lose?
Don’t blame the turkey. Although it’s true that turkey contains L-tryptophan, an essential amino acid with documented sleep-inducing effects, it contains less than many other foods such as chicken, pork and cheese. More likely, it’s all of those fats and carbohydrates you consumed during your holiday feast that make you want to find a pillow before the table is cleared. Whatever the cause, watching your friends and family members go comatose one-by-one, or feeling your own eyelids start to droop, is a pretty boring way to spend your holiday.
On the other hand, why deny yourself or your loved ones a quick nap on your day off? According to the National Sleep Foundation, most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep every night—and many of us don’t get it. And the Mayo Clinic associates numerous benefits, from increased alertness to improved mood, with taking a short nap in the afternoon. So relax and rest your eyes for a while, and then do something fun after everyone wakes up.
Why does it have to be a secret? And why are you being forced to purchase yet another gift for someone you either don’t like, don’t know well, or at least don’t consider enough of a friend to give them a gift openly and without this veil of secrecy?
The next time you’re drafted to be a Secret Santa and bitterness starts to rise like bile in your throat, keep in mind that the whole idea behind the Secret Santa phenomenon is to save everyone time and money by reducing the number of gifts each person has to buy—and to make sure that no one is left without a gift. Making it all anonymous adds a little extra fun and reduces the risk that someone may feel embarrassed.
Holiday giving campaigns
It’s not the requests for money—whether from the bell-ringing bucket brigade on every corner or the endless direct-mail appeals that arrive with photos of abused puppies and starving children—it’s the blatant manipulation that makes us feel bitter and want to shout, “Bah, humbug,” long before the holiday season ends.
Consider this:Having people constantly ask you for money may get annoying, especially during a season when you’re already giving so much, but aren’t you glad there are so many people in the world who are striving and struggling to help those in need? Of course you are, and we know you’ll help when and where you can.
You work with these people every day and some of them are your friends, but why subject yourself to the false camaraderie of an office party with those who aren’t? Besides, your boss and her boss are going to be there, and there will be drinking, so all night you’ll be taking care to make sure you don’t say or do anything that might come back to haunt you like the ghost of Christmas past.
Keep in mind that an office party is also a great time to see your coworkers, and even your boss, in a more relaxed mood. Use the opportunity to get to know them better, and discover the human heart that beats inside that business suit. Establishing a deeper connection with the people you work with every day might just end up making your job more fun.