“The Holidays,” generally defined as the period from Thanksgiving through New Years, can be an emotional roller coaster. We’re expected to be (and would like to be) filled with joy, cheer and love for all living beings 24 hours a day. Sorry. It’s just not possible.
In reality, the holidays can be, and frequently are, a difficult time. Expectations are often not met, loneliness is intensified in the absence of family and friends, stepfamilies must cook up complicated schedules, and relaxation is out of the question.
The Best-Laid Plans
I try to plan early. I buy gifts throughout the year so I’m a few steps ahead. But this year, a friend with a simple concern caught me off guard. Thus, my story begins:
It was mid-December. The countdown had begun. I knew the drill and I was in control. My living room was littered with wrapped, half-wrapped and unwrapped presents. I only had six people left to shop for. Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer had been viewed by millions of expectant children. Stores and malls were jammed. I had parties to attend and plans for New Years. I was ready.
Suddenly, my organized approach to holiday preparation was thrown into a state of complete disarray when my friend Jessie called with a question I couldn’t answer.
“When,” she asked me, “do the holidays actually end?” She paused, then continued. “I mean, does a symbolic guillotine come crashing down on January 2nd? Are the holidays over when my Christmas tree dries up and its needles fall off in clumps? After I stop seeing champagne bottles in recycling bins?” She sighed into the phone. “What I really want to know is, when am I allowed to feel lousy again?”
Although it was impossible for me to give her an exact date when she was permitted to stop smiling, or when she could stop giving money compulsively to Salvation Army kettles, I told her I’d do a little footwork and come up with a response.
Ringing In and Wringing Out
It turns out that “post-holiday blues” is the rarely-acknowledged stepchild of the better known “holiday blues.” While hundreds of websites, pamphlets and articles offer solutions for tempering depressions that occur during the holidays, the intense bouts of depression suffered by many after the holidays are frequently neglected. What happens after the packages are opened, the eggnog is finished and the leftover turkey is eaten in one final sandwich? Many people are left with literal and figurative hangovers. The cause? While alcohol may play a part, the larger contributors are unmet expectations, unrealistic resolutions, and a return of loneliness and guilt about overindulgence. This being the case, what’s next?