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Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas was better in the olden days... or was it?

s_herman, Flickr

For many, the end of year celebrations are a mixed blessing.

For the most part, those who are either alone or very old do not enjoy it quite as much, as made apparent by some interviews performed in a Quebec nursing home recently. For many of its elderly residents, Christmas was so much better in the "good ol' days".

When you pay attention to their sentiments, however, you realize that the problem does not lie in the fact that Christmas is celebrated differently nowadays (smaller families, less emphasis on religion - in Quebec anyways), but rather in the fact that their old age makes it difficult for them to appreciate the celebrations.

Many of the interviewees mentioned that Christmas was so much better back when they would get together with their parents and 12 brothers and sisters, plus the extended family, to celebrate. They say that it's hard now that more than half of the family is "gone". I don't blame them. It must be painful to be reminded that you are one of the few to still be alive. One of the ladies, on top of losing most of her siblings, has also lost a daughter in December, and is reminded of it each year as other people are getting ready to party. She also suffers from chronic pain, accompanied with difficulties walking. When she mentioned "not enjoying much in life anymore, and just waiting for God to come and get me", I wondered if she does not even suffer from old age depression, which has been said to be under diagnosed.

Seems like Beethoven was depressed too.
Not even a smile for the camera!

In brief, it's not so much that Christmas was better before, but maybe more that aging is not easy. No one will argue that Christmas is much more exciting when you're a child. Not far behind on the continuum of "funness" is Christmas with children of your own. They bring back the magic you might have lost over the years, and seeing the sparkle in their eyes is often sufficient to make you happy.

When discussing this with D, he said "well, of course Christmas was more exciting when I was a little boy!" What keeps it enjoyable now is to see our daughters get all excited over it. I don't know what it will be like when they're grown-ups. Hopefully there will be grandchildren. D added "The only thing we had to do as children was to come when we were called; we were fed and entertained and given presents. The rest of it was all about play. Now wonder it was more fun!"

I think he has a point. Each generation has been saying how much better it was when they were younger, but I wonder if it's not simply a manifestation of nostalgia that hits all of us as we get older. It has been shown that our memory is selective, and that we tend to idealize the past. Add to it the losses (either family members and friends deceasing, or oneself being mentally/physically diminished), and we can easily see that younger years Christmases will look way more glittery.

Childhood Christmases were much more magical!
My kids used to think this was a reindeer
straight from the North Pole.
(They also thought their own footsteps in the snow
were from elves... I never contradicted them.)
Backyard, 2011.

A word about big gatherings and big families in general: in those idealized recounts, many forget that big families and animated holidays do NOT equate happiness and balance. How many families have issues? A lot I'm afraid: some individuals, even if you're from the same family tree, are an annoyance: the alcoholic one who exasperates everyone, the perv one who touches some in places they shouldn't be touched. The self-centered one. The neurotic one. The reproachful one. The rigid, controlling one.

Plus, spending more time together serves as a reminder of the old conflicts that prevent some to even talk to each other even if they share 50% of their DNA. All families have their issues, and gatherings, joyful as they may be, often bring all that to the surface.

Even in the absence of problematic issues, there often is a gap between what each member wants from the holidays. Some want to party all night long. Some just want to relax. Some want to get up early and do all kinds of activities. Some want to cook, eat and drink. How do you reconcile it all?

I advocate for a fine balance: end of year celebrations are about being together and having fun, about doing things to make others happy (as a friend recently recounted: please don't wait until Christmas morning to wrap your presents and make everyone wait because you failed at planning adequately; that is just wrong!) But end of year celebrations are just as much about resting and taking time for yourself.

Don't we all wish we had a nice angel like this to help us?
Drawn by A in 2010 (age 4 - I can't even draw that well!)
She has since then become
a nice little helper herself.

I recently read and really liked  this post by fellow blogger Beth Berry at Revolution from Home (click here): it is entitled Dear Friends and Family, Please don't Stress on Account of Me.

Speaking of which, it has come to my attention that in some families, there is one family member who "does it all" while the others put their feet up and relax. Unless you are a domestic goddess and truly enjoy all the preparation (which is not my case), there is no reason you should be working to your last bit of exhaustion during the Holidays. Resting shouldn't be a male prerogative, just as staying warm shouldn't be a female prerogative. I encourage all families to revisit the chore load to make it fair; after all, this is the celebration of Love with a capital L, isn't it? Show your love by lightening a loved one's load. If you don't know where to start, this could give you a few hints (click here).

The Holidays will be stressful no matter what, from the sheer amount of things to be done (I feel like I've been shopping and cleaning non-stop, and D was no less busy with the cooking and decorating); but I'm sure there is a way to enjoy them no matter what.

For us, it will mostly be with friends, since our family is far away, and since every attempt from us to visit them or from them to visit us in the winter ends up being cancelled because of poor road conditions (ice storm and ice rink-like roads right now). We nonetheless find a way to make the most of it. We take the time to exist and be with each other, D, I and the kids, which is wonderful on its own. End of year holidays is the only time we don't work AND don't go anywhere (not anywhere far anyways). We might watch more movies than usual (or TED talks... some are really cool), read more books, eat more chocolate and drink more wine. We will go ice skating once or twice, maybe splash around at the local swimming pool (it has two huge, amazing slides), and visit one of the local museums, on top of sledding if snow makes a much awaited comeback; we will take bubble baths and play games. More importantly we will cuddle, and cuddle some more.

We will also spend a lot of time on the phone with our geographically distant loved ones. That's okay too.

Of course we will not forget to run and to go to the gym. We never wait for January 1st to take care of our health.

If, for a reason or another, you are feeling kind of down this time of year, why don't you treat yourself with some simple pleasures? Beginning with this one:

How do you make the most of the Holidays?


  1. We are in the same boat - just the 4 of us usually!! I love the extra time we get to spend together and actually prefer to save larger family gatherings for other times of the year - so much less stress.
    I enjoyed this post - it made me think about if Christmas was better in the "old" days or if it is just a matter of perspective and what has been lost.

    1. I'm allergic to "it was better back then" statements. :-)

      Glad you appreciate quiet, low key holidays as well! They are wonderful for reconnecting with the ones we love, and centering ourselves.

  2. This is my wife's favorite holiday! I think it's because of her joy of decorating, sharing, giving and singing. She has some decorations that she has had since her 20's (over 40 years). They have special meaning to her. Who gave them to her, what the occasion was, what their relationship is. She shares her time, talents, energies with friends and family. She gives modest gifts, but from the heart. This time of year she sings her favorite hymns and Christmas carols all month long. Most recently with her church group at the Assisted Living facility where her mother passed on from in October. She especially enjoys all the extra time she gets to spend with the grandchildren out of school for Christmas Break. She doesn't look back with nostalgia on Christmas pasts (of which she has fond memories), so much as she lives for today and in the moment with those who surround her. Merry Christmas to you and yours. You have a lovely family:)

    1. Aww, that is very nice. Now I wish I spent Christmas with your wife. :-D

      Merry Christmas to you!

  3. Nothing could ever be better than a good Christmas as a child! That is a constant over time.

    Better in the old days? Probably was, and the media may be to blame.

    1. Agree on the childhood Christmas. :-)

      As for the media, I guess it is up to us to fight back, create our own traditions, and resist the ones we don't want to affiliate with.

  4. Hi! I've been trying to comment on your most recent post, but for some reason it is not allowing me. Just wanted to say that thanks for visiting my blog, it's great as now I have found your blog :-) I love my wine, have grown up with a cellar full of wine (my parents). I adore a good Riesling!

  5. I really enjoyed reading this post. It made me smile more than once. :) Love the pictures, especially the photo of the deer. Fantastic!