This has always been a tricky time of year for me. It is a sensory overwhelm of massive proportions for an HSP. It’s cold outside, it’s warm inside. More layers of clothes against my skin. It’s dark, yet lit with twinkling bright colorful lights, the contrast enhancing the experience of each. Scents are spicier, fragrant trees are cut down in their prime and brought indoors. Feelings of depression are numbed by consumption of food, alcohol, shopping and loud, busy parties, which only seem to heighten the depression noticeable in the moments of withdrawal.
My birthday occurs on the deepest day of holiday hangover: January 4th. It’s the day everyone collapses from overwhelm, the pressure to have things go well in the important days has passed and the colds and flus that have been percolating finally take hold. Legend has it I was due on 12/25 but held off emerging until the Monday after the holidays; my mother laboring from 9am to 5pm, a solid work day on the first work day of the year. I didn’t know I was one of those people with an overlooked birthday until my sister’s birthdays began in summer and I noticed that she received presents from friends and family for both her birthday and Christmas, while I usually only received one or the other. Gifts are a beautiful love language and for some reason more of this language was bestowed upon my sister. This was the beginning of my understanding that one’s value in our society is often measured in commodities.
I know my parents felt the pressure; every year the gifts we received were bigger and more incredible in order to achieve that thrill of exceeding expectations. Our home was unrecognizable this time of year, the decorations that usually took up a large percentage of storage space in the garage and/or basement came out glittering and smelling of pine and cinnamon. I can’t imagine the amount of work it took. My dad up on a ladder tending to the light display on the second story of the house, my mom creating vignettes throughout the entire inside whilst also cooking up a storm. Carolyn and my holiday preparation consisted of focused shopping; participating in Black Friday Sales as a cultural phenomenon, and braving shopping malls right up to the 24th looking for just the right things.
In my mid twenties I started to notice the icky feelings I had around this time. The aftermath being a time I am wide awake and vigilant while the world seems to go into hibernation, masses of wrapping paper and tree carcases on the street (see Mike Neff’s beautiful and haunting reappropriation here) became giant waving red (and green) flags. The excess and waste made me sick to my stomach and not just from sugar withdrawal.
When my sister’s addiction took full hold of her in 2010 the winter holidays became unbearable. The dysfunction and dissociation hit an all time high in my family and that was the last Christmas I did. I would soon come to see how capitalism depends on and encourages addiction. Since leaving the fantastical years of childhood Christmases, I had known that we were far from a religious family celebrating the birth of Christ, we were consumers participating in economic growth. But now I could see that consumerism was more toxic than I had previously thought. It was actively killing my family.
I get now that these solstice holidays are meant to help us deal with Seasonal Affective Disorder. We’re trying to find ways to celebrate and find joy in the darkest days of the year.
My family has since found some ways to be together, to acknowledge the sadness that is inherent in this time of year while also knowing that it will pass, trusting that the sun will return to this hemisphere. We are finding ways to celebrate that allow us to stay awake from the consumer fog; we go to museums, see films, prepare special meals. In defiance to my upbringing, I own zero Christmas decorations, but this year invested in candles and cut evergreens. We studded oranges with cloves in homage to Yule-style solstice celebrations and set LED candles to light themselves every day around dusk to make things feel cozy and to add some cheer to the early nights. We’ve found a bunch of festive music that we actually enjoy and invited a small group of loved ones over to craft, watch old home movies and drink hot spiced tea and apple cider. The synchronization of the full moon at Solstice made for an excellent moment of reflection on a difficult year, releasing things that no longer serve and setting intentions for the brand new year to come. This is absolutely my favorite holiday season yet, no numbing involved. I’m buzzing with ideas for next year already: #1) must find a way to make a yule log cake work with my dietary restrictions. Carob Plantain cake, anyone?
I’d love to learn the traditions and/or coping mechanisms you invoke this time of year. Please leave a comment or send me a message. ❤️