Holidays can bring loved ones together for sharing and singing and reminiscing…they can also be a killer, the sugary salt that brings out any conflict, no matter how small, and magnifies it like the curved plastic of a snow globe.
My friend Tara won’t allow Christmas music to be played in her home until the second week of December. Now, I’m the sort of gal who, once the turkey and the cranberry sauce are yesterday’s news, I’m all over my Vince Guaraldi Peanuts Christmas album. I’m dragging that ironically environmentally friendly plastic tree out of my shed and laying out all the pieces, one by one, until it’s up, in all its glory, in the corner of my ritually rearranged living room. Yeah, that’s how I spend the fourth Friday of November, every year.
Normally, I would say bah-humbug to Tara. When there is an excuse for magic and joy and believing in hope (aka the holidays), why not start as early as respectably possible? I mean joy and magic and hope aside, there is egg nog at stake, people. In Tara’s case, however, I get it. Her birthday is December 5th. She’s looking for some sense of separation between her birthday and the holidays, her day of birth wedged so unfortunately between Thanksgiving and Christmas. So, Tara gets a Scrooge pass. But those passes are hard to come by.
Another friend, let’s call her”Donna,” has learned the hard way that Santa’s lap holds more je ne sais quoi with some than with others.
Donna had never really been in a long term relationship. Her career forbade it, always travelling, too many nights out, too many nights in finishing reports. When she met “Rich” she had just switched to a desk job, had a more stable lifestyle and had just bought her first home. So, new gorgeous boyfriend, stable life, new home…you know once December rolled around she was headed to Michael’s and buying holiday decorations galore. Fine, fine. The problem was, she didn’t just buy them for herself.
She surprised Rich by decorating his apartment for him. Despite the fact that he was met at his (draped in twinkling lights) door with the aforementioned egg nog, Rich was less than amused. Donna had a movie moment expectation of Rich’s reaction to her elf’s work; one that did not come to be. As it turned out, Rich asked her to take it all down. In his defense, he helped her take it down and offered to put it back up again at her place. He, as he explained to her, was just not a holiday kind of guy.
How do you deal when your partner differs from you so greatly on a matter that is so loaded with emotion? Holidays can bring loved ones together for sharing and singing and reminiscing…they can also be a killer, the sugary salt that brings out any conflict, no matter how small, and magnifies it like the curved plastic of a snow globe. In other words, holidays are touchy enough when partners are on the same wavelength. What now for Donna and Rich?
I think my insensitive advice for her at the time was something along the lines of “Whatever, he’s so cute. Deal with it.” That was back when I thought relationships were easy. Because I’d never been in a strong one. Now that I’m in a keeper, with all its checks and balances, surprising moments of agreeing on something, and less surprising moments of conflict, I feel her pain. I wish I’d had the following tips for Donna back when “Martha Gate” (so called because Donna based a lot of her décor on Martha Stewart’s LIVING magazine) went down:
WHERE IS THE LOVE?
Talk to your partner about what it is exactly he dislikes about Christmas, or Hanukah, or whatever it is you’re trying to shove down his throat. Is it the unbridled commercialism of the holiday season? Is it the fact that he feels he already has too much stuff and he panics wondering what he’s going to do with all this stuff people thinks he wants…that he doesn’t actually want? Is it the fact that the holidays are a symbol for the end of the year and he hasn’t accomplished his New Year’s Resolution yet? Is it seasonal affective disorder? What the heck is it? From my point of view, the holidays are so inarguably fun; there must be a reason behind someone disliking them. Understanding always goes a long way toward resolution. And giving your partner an ear to discuss what might be deep-seated anger or bitterness towards something holiday-related could be a step toward healing for him. Maybe not a step toward visiting Santa in the mall, but a step away from resentment of something that truly takes over the commercial and media world the last two months of every year.
IT’S NOT ABOUT THE MONEY
Make sure he knows this! Starting November 1st, we are inundated with commercials showing dreamy images of striking men in holiday sweaters kneeling down in a snow-swirling moonlit courtyard, offering their sweethearts things made of gold and encrusted with diamonds. Cue that velvety voice that encourages him to ‘give her what she really wants this year.’ This is a lot of pressure for a guy! I may be the exception but I am pretty ecstatic about a pair of warm slippers on Christmas morning. Especially when I know I got them because my husband noticed my old ones had holes in the heels. Gift-giving can be a terrifying experience, and everything from rap song s to commercials makes it look like all we ladies want is bling. Nothing wrong with a nice rock, but gift-giving is truly more about knowing the individual desires and hopes of the receiver…I would rather share a bottle of champagne with my husband chatting about all the tickets to cruises and journeys through the Greek isles we’d like to find under the tree, and daydreaming about all the fun we’d have together on them, than actually get them knowing he’d completely wrung himself dry making it happen.
THIS TOO SHALL END
Enough with all the work you’re doing making sure your partner is comfortable at holiday season. It’s good and well to be sensitive and understanding, but the holidays can be a necessary shot in the arm, an antidote for the chilly, end-of-the-year doldrums for people who give into the joy of the season without, for better or for worse, further analysis. If this is a special time for you, it’s as much a responsibility for your non-practicing partner to respect your wishes and feelings as it is for you to be respectful of his. It might fall on your shoulders to make this known to your secular loved one; you can soften the blow by letting your partner know that, unbelievable as it might seem in the first week of December, the holidays will end.
A new year will start, with new opportunity for resolutions and room for accomplishment and a greater understanding of how the two of you will deal with the holidays next year! While you’re at it, you might consider making New Year’s Eve the really big deal for you and your partner. Is anyone down on New Year’s Eve? The champagne, the sparkly dresses, the kissing at midnight?
As far as Donna and Rich go, it was not a happy ending. The holidays can’t be blamed, it was that pesky ex-wife of his. Who wasn’t actually ex. Which might have something to do with the fact that he didn’t want his girlfriend breaking into his apartment unannounced to drape it in tinsel. If his distaste for the holidays was a ruse to get her out of his apartment, I’ll bet he has real reason to dislike them now. Based on Donna’s reaction when she discovered he was still married.
Donna’s doing great, though. As a matter of fact, I’ll bet she’s buying matching reindeer sweaters with her new boyfriend right now. It’s a Christmas miracle.