It happened a few weeks ago. We were on a video chat between us and the kids’ grandparents when one of them brought up Christmas. Yes, my favorite holiday is still three and a half months away, and yes, we are already discussing it. ‘Tis the season — perpetually — in this house.
I wasn’t shocked that the holidays were a topic of conversation. I’d been thinking about the upcoming holiday season since mid-summer, starting with my baby’s birthday in late September. Next up is my husband’s birthday and Halloween, followed by two tweens’ birthdays plus Thanksgiving, and then Christmas. In our family, we take a “go big or go home” attitude toward this season. However, 2020 is trying to mess with my jingle bells. COVID means we were literally have to “go big” but “stay home.” The very thought of a different holiday season, one with no successful blueprint, is giving me anticipatory anxiety.
If you’ve read my other writing, you know I have a legit anxiety diagnosis. Perhaps you aren’t surprised that I’m anxious about the upcoming holiday season. Doesn’t everything make me anxious? Surprise! The holidays tend to be the exception.
I adore all things Christmas: the cookies, the décor, the music, attending church, putting up the tree, buying gifts, and even wearing cheesy holiday graphic tees. There’s no shame in my Christmas game. I’m one of those annoying people who can’t wait for Halloween and Thanksgiving to be over so I can move on to what I think is more festive and fun—all that red, green, bells, sugar cookies, and wrapping paper.
Preparing for Christmas gives me a high like none other. (I know, I sound so suburban.) Then the pandemic hit and is seemingly taking up residence for a while. I’m forecasting a holiday season that involves no travel across wintery fairylands, no Santa visit, and no in-store shopping. And yes, it makes me sad, angry, and nervous.
I’m like the mom on Home Alone. Christmas is, as she says, “the season of perpetual hope.” But with masks, distancing, and, you know, the coronavirus, it seems like we’re doomed to spend the holidays in our own homes. No pre-church Christmas photos. You know what we did last summer? We took a one-hour detour after a family wedding in Chicago to visit the actual Home Alone house, all for a five minute photo session on the sidewalk.
I know I should just get creative, right? I’m sure Pinterest will be loaded with ideas, generated by smart and crafty moms, starting within the next month. However, I’m bitter. Why should I have to give up my favorite season? Why wasn’t this virus nipped in the bud?
Trying to decide how to create holiday magic for my family, something I normally immensely enjoy, is giving me anxious vibes. If we bake a bunch of cookies, we have nowhere to take them. Are we shipping gifts this year in brown boxes rather than carefully wrapping each one in paper chosen for the receiver’s personality? I want to get my baby girl an adorable holiday dress—but you know how the saying goes. She’ll be all dressed up with nowhere to go. What’s the point?
I know. We could get matching pjs, we could still bake and eat cookies, we can put on Elf, and we can order all our gifts online. Our tree will be up and sparkling, and I’ll be certain to blast Dolly Parton’s new Christmas album alongside classics like Nat King Cole. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say the whole idea makes me feel blue.
The alternative is to sit outside in frigid Midwest temps with our families, wearing masks and distancing while trying to pass around gifts in a safe manner. Maybe drag them around on a sled from person to person? This sounds miserable, and cold. I’m not here for it.
I thought Christmas seemed so far away and the pandemic would be a distant memory by now. I think I was in denial. The conversation we had with the kids’ grandparents reminded me that time is marching on, and the holidays are approaching. Therefore, we’re going to have to come up with a new plan, whether I like it or not.
My anxiety always predicts catastrophic outcomes, because anxiety is a jerk and a liar. At minimum, my anxiety tries to put a serious damper on my mood. The reality is, family is family and the holidays are the holidays. They can be magical with some planning plus flexibility and spontaneity. I just need to get my anxiety on board—which is always easier said than done.
If you’re struggling to wrap your brain around what the holidays might look like this year, no matter which is your fave, you aren’t alone. You want to carry out favorite traditions, whether it be trick-or-treating or whipping up your great-grandmother’s homemade pie recipe to place on the Thanksgiving table. How will we carry out our festive rituals and routines while keeping our family healthy and safe? Or, anxiety reminds us, we may have to scratch everything traditional and create a new plan.
There are many of us with anxiety—or depression—who are already fixating on the holiday season. I don’t have any sage advice. What I do know? We are used to being fighters and working hard, and I have no doubt that we will end up having a merry and bright holiday. But first, we need to process our feelings.