With the holiday season upon us I thought it appropriate to bring up a topic of conversation I have noticed among myself and a number of friends. What happens to Christmas when you’re an adult?
Alternately we ask: Why, now that I’m in my mid/late twenties, does Christmas not seem so much fun? Why do I feel depressed as soon as Macy’s decks out in the green and red? Why am I so much more senstive to the materialistic aspects of Christmas than I was as a kid (or even a teenager). Why can’t I just be happy about this season?
Even I have turned to Peter and proclaimed, “If I hear one more Christmas song on the radio I’m going to drive off that bridge!” I don’t really mean it, of course, but as someone who used to sing Carols all year long I’m surprised to hear myself say that.
Many have heard of the “Quarterlife Crisis”. A brick wall many hit as they leave college and can’t seem to find the answers to some big questions; “who am I” “what do I want to do with my life” “why did I major in underwater basket weaving and not business” ???
I think I’ll dub this discussion the “Quarterlife Christmas Crisis”.
Once, when I was maybe 8 or 9, my Mom told me that she used to spend Christmas with her aunts and uncles and all her cousins (people I see maybe once a year and certainly not on Christmas). I was surprised. At first I couldn’t fathom that she didn’t spend Christmas the way I did… with my aunts and uncles and my cousins. Once I figured out that my cousins hadn’t even been born then I started to realize that at some point in my life I too may have to spend Christmas without the “carved in stone” regimen I was used to. At 8 I figured I’d have a long, long time to deal with that thought.
So here I am a “long, long time” later. And now that I’m married I have to deal with the fact that every Christmas can’t be exactly like I remember it. People grow and change, family dynamics change and, ultimately, traditions have to change. I think this may be what causes this “Christmas Crisis” in so many of the 20somethings I know.
As adults we recognize different aspects of the holidays then we did as children. Spending on presents is only one tiny part of it. We now see all the family dynamics that come into play. We must figure out how we fit into the grand sceme of things. Who buys presents for who? How much do we spend? Are you expected to host a family party? Must you split the day between in-law families? Should you set up a tree in your little apartment that only you will see, or just enjoy the one that your parents have? All of a sudden instead of simply enjoying a holday, we must now start to plan and analyze it.
Our parents all went through this…unfortunately it was 20 or 30 years ago. And well before we were able to watch how they reacted and adjusted. We can see now how they react to our going to college, getting married, having children…and will recall those reactions as our children go through the same stages. But we don’t have the benefit of watching our parents bloom as adults or seeing how they delt with these changes. And so we go through the same confusion they did. How do we fit in as adults in this Holiday?
This confusion leads to feelings of depression. Thoughts that, “everything was better when I was a kid” come to mind. We may also feel lonely, there’s no collection of family ornaments for the tree, no family friends stopping by, no idea what to buy your parents now that you don’t live with them and can’t see what they need/want on a daily basis… We may start to project these feelings on the holiday in general. If these questions make us sad, and they’re related to Christmas, then Christmas must make us sad. And thinking about how Christmas makes us sad only depresses us more.
Ultimately, however, this stage must pass. The cousins will all get married and have families of their own. At that point the aunts and uncles will split off and have separate ‘family’ get togethers (as my Mom and her cousins did). We’ll all begin to form our own Christmas traditions with our own nuclear families. Once we settle into a new routine, I suspect, our love for Christmas will return. We will rejoice in watching our children get excited, in welcoming our extended families over for parties, for surprising our spouses with unexpected gifts… and the ‘perfection’ we remember from our childhoods will solidify into family folklore we tell our children (who will sit in footie pj’s with eyes wide with disbelief).