Have you ever witnessed the epic failure of good intentions? I once attended Thanksgiving dinner at a small church. Just prior to the meal, the pastor suggested we each share our favorite Thanksgiving memory. Seems harmless enough, right? In fact, it is somewhat of a tradition for friends, family, and colleagues across the nation to share holiday memories and those things for which they are thankful. However, in a perfect example of why it is important to know your audience, this idea was received about as well as a half-deflated football.
And so it began, one story after another about abuse, abandonment, loneliness, and grief. A few people even walked out. One could easily defend this pastor and say he couldn’t possibly have anticipated such a negative response, but I found myself wondering, how did he NOT anticipate it? He’d served this church for years, and knew most of these people and their family histories very well. Why then didn’t he select a less risky conversational topic, or skip it altogether? My theory is, holiday happiness made him forget his audience.
Perhaps the magic of the season lies in its ability to help some forget the pain of holidays past, and helps others look ahead to new years and fresh starts. I believe it is this holiday forgetfulness which led to the strange reaction this pastor encountered. Some of us get caught up in in the festivities, becoming blind to those around us who are completely miserable. Others of us are so caught up in current circumstances, we become blind to the joys around us. The constant barrage of happy this and merry that can seem cruel if you’ve just experienced a great loss. Pair that with the guilt of not feeling the holiday cheer which seems so overwhelmingly obligatory, and it’s no wonder some people find themselves simply hoping the season passes quickly.
If you are currently a holiday reveler, good for you! Please, just be kind to those around you who are going through a rough patch. You don’t have to let them bring you down, but you might just check to make sure they are coping. Try to avoid pressing people to participate when they aren’t quite up to it, and perhaps offer an alternative, such as a small get-together instead of a big holiday party.
If you are finding the holidays particularly difficult this year, here are a few survival tips.
- Know your limits. If you don’t feel like you can endure an extended family gathering, find out what time the meal will be served and plan your entrance and exit accordingly.
- If you dread sitting home alone – don’t. Many restaurants and businesses are open. Take yourself out to dinner or a movie.
- Talk to somebody. If a friend is also struggling, suggest a mutual morale-building plan. It may be something as simple as sending a “How’re you doing?” text message every hour or two, but those little messages can be a big help if you are feeling alone.
If you’ve had some good holidays past, try writing down some of those happy memories. If, like my church friends, your past Thanksgivings left you not-so-thankful, think about what you’d like the holidays to be. Then try one or two small things to perk yourself up, such as lighting some candles or baking yourself a treat. Some people choose this time of the year to volunteer at the local shelters or food banks in order to help others who are also down on their luck. Helping others is a great way to lift yourself – and someone else — out of a valley.
Try different things until the holidays shape themselves into something less dreadful. By doing so, you are not only empowering yourself by taking control over events during a time when things may seem very much out of your control. But, you are also creating a new future, one in which each holiday season becomes better than the one before it, and perhaps even — dare I say it – cheerful.