I was about twelve when I learned to torture myself late on Christmas evening. I was always bummed to see the holiday season come to an end. At some point late on Christmas Day my father would say, “It’s all over but the shouting!” I despised that saying because I hated the thought of Christmas being over, especially since the “shouting” part had no basis in reality (unless my parents got into a fight, which just made my mood worse).
To pour vinegar into the cut, I started a ritual of staring out the window as midnight approached, gazing at all the outdoor lights I could take in from the given window. Usually it was one of our living room windows, from which I could look up Maple Drive in Oakley to see our neighbors’ decorations. I could see houses on a hilltop street across the valley of Marburg Avenue as well. In fact, sometimes I could even spot the illuminated plastic candles hung on the light poles of the Hyde Park Plaza parking lot if I peered carefully through the trees at exactly the right spot.
I had a notion that the lights had a special shimmer, a magic that vanished at midnight on Christmas Day. I stayed awake so I could witness this extinguishing, and pay tribute to it in a morbid way. It made me ache to do it, but once having established this ritual, it became a new, excruciating tradition that went on for decades.
In my twenties, I added another dimension: I’d have the radio on, tuned to a station that had been playing non-stop Christmas music for the past 24 hours, so I could hear and feel the seering loss when the holiday tunes evaporated into the ethers at midnight and the playlist returned to normal vapidity.
Yes, I do think a part of me appreciates pain and believes it adds depth to an experience. I became a lifelong artist in the practice of saying farewell to things, and really feeling sorrow, even mourning, whether it was the circus leaving town, a return from a wonderful vacation trip, the closing of the county fair, or the end of summer. Therefore, even though I was blessed not to lose anyone extremely close to me for the first 20+ years of my life, I lived in a constant funereal state of mind.
My “goodbye to Christmas” depression became almost debilitating by my 30s. By then I’d realized that I wasn’t mourning just the end of THAT Christmas, but of the entire preceding autumn going back to the beginning of October (my favorite time of year). And all the Christmas Pasts became entwined in Christmas Present, so I was waving goodbye to all of them at once, and everyone and everything associated with them. It was hell and not really a good way to live.
I don’t know if I’d have broken out of that well of season-ending despair without being diagnosed with severe clinical depression and being prescribed Zoloft almost 15 years ago. It’s not that I don’t still get sad on Christmas night; the difference is I’m able to let it go.
But I’m still enough of an emotional masochist that I have to look at the lights one last time while it’s still “Christmas.” Never mind that in many countries and cultures, the Christmas season continues on through January 6, or the actual celebration is on that date. I’ve scolded myself about that for years, but it’s never helped. Once I tried that trick of waiting until midnight while watching Christmas videos on VH1, but I was taken aback when the holiday-spirited videos continued – after all, it was still Christmas to the west of Ohio. That realization helped some, but finally not enough.
I thought I might feel even worse this year because of our troubled season, but I don’t. Yes, I’m sad that Christmas is over. I’ll continue to be sad right on into January, heart sinking as the light displays disappear one after another at the darkest time of the calendar. I do love New Year’s Eve, though, and I get a slight respite from the misery around December 28 as party fever builds again in anticipation.
My mother said something encouraging, though. Usually she’s ready to move on from Christmas once December 25 is wound up. This year, however, she says she doesn’t feel as “sick” of it all as she does most years, due to not getting to enjoy much of it (or, for that matter, wear herself out with it). She says she’s not ready to start hauling down the decorations, which she managed to put up just days before the kidney stone affliction. She’s going to let herself enjoy them more in the coming week, in addition to other things of a Christmas nature. That helps. Things don’t feel quite as final as we approach midnight this Christmas as they usually do.