The work of Rev. Jude Geiger, a Unitarian Universalist minister

Recovering from the Holidays

“Nostalgia tells us how things should be now; rather than allow us to reminisce on the goodness that was, and be able to see the goodness that is.” 11/25/18.

Rev. Jude Geiger

When I was a child around Christmas time, I remember getting into my pajamas at night and laying down on the carpet of our den and listening to the 24 hours of Christmas. It was a radio station in my area that was taken over by the holiday – probably the same in many areas – that would play Christmas music straight through with no commercials. It was so important to me that I would ask my parents to record it on cassette tapes – a relic now from another time. Each year, I wanted to somehow capture the feeling of Christmas, and the little kid in me was sure recording the sounds of the holiday would help me to hold onto the spirit of the holiday a little bit longer.

In some ways I was already experiencing nostalgia alongside the childhood joy. But mostly I just didn’t want it to end before it began. I was excited about the toys, but I was also looking forward to the religious services. Midnight Mass was a powerful thing for me as a child. I felt like it was opening up sacred doors to view a glimpse again of something I was not here for – the first time around. Maybe you could call it the opposite of nostalgia – hoping to witness what had already happened. Pining for a time or an event we had never seen for ourselves.

But it was definitely also nostalgia – even as a kid. There is so much good about the Holiday season, but for many of us who struggle through it, there’s an emotional roller coaster that’s not always healthy. Nostalgia is the big bully of Thanksgiving through New Years. For some of us, we remember some ideal year, and overlay that on every other year. I know it was particularly hard on my mom – she was one of the Christmas Babies – born on Christmas. The emotions were all magnified as so many holidays were wrapped up together.

Nostalgia around this time of year, is like a candy hangover – at some point along the way we got to indulge in the sweetness so much, that the celebrations became about the sweetness – and anyone who has ever known a toddler – knows that too much sugar doesn’t end well for anyone – include the people around them.

But nostalgia tells us how things shouldbe now; rather than allow us to reminisce on the goodness that was, and be able to see the goodness that is. Hyped up on visiting family, and getting presents, or a great meal – as a kid – I only recall the positive things. I surely don’t remember the challenges I’m sure my parents had to manage between driving from one grandparent or aunt to another. We leave that for the adults to handle, and when we’re adults we sometimes forget the holidays were always complicated – even when they were wonderful.

The holidays can be rather blue for many of us – for so many different reasons. And when they are a challenge for us, all the joy around us can be quite painful. Nostalgia isn’t always the only bully that comes to the forefront this time of year. Grief is another one. For loved ones gone; for families we never knew; for parents or kids that never learned to show up. That pain is real, and we can’t wish it away. Grief abides no schedule, nor path. We can only attend to it as best we can when it comes to our door again as a guest – expected or unexpected. If this is what makes your season blue; please be gentle with yourself, and reach out to your friends, your community – we’re all here.

If I’m honest with myself – and I think this is true for most of us – I’ve only known maybe two families in my life that could ever hold up to a Hallmark After School special. So it’s not rational to make that the marker; and yet I know most of us do that very thing. And when our own families don’t live up to that mythical perfection, especially this time of year, we can feel the pain of that loss, sharp and bright. I’ve even known some families that I loved visiting for the holidays, who I’m sure, my friends who grew up in them couldn’t get past X, Y, or Z that was happening around them. The tinsel is always brighter in someone else’s mantel.

I’ll end this short reflection with the primal question from our last reading, “ “Want me to tell you a story?” asked Gratitude gleefully, and Vulnerability nodded, cautiously. “Once upon a time, there was a hermit who lived in a cave on a snowy mountain. People traveled from exotic places to seek the wisdom of the man who seemed to hold the key to happiness.”

…to seek the wisdom of the man who seemed to hold the key to happiness… The worst losses aside this time of year, so much of our pain around the holidays can be tied to this myth – that there’s someone else that holds the key to happiness. If Grief is your guest this time of year, give them their due – and care for them patiently – it is dangerous to turn that away, as much as we would wish. If nostalgia is your guest, teach it to smile at times gone but once loved dearly. And maybe, don’t seek out masters who we think hold the keys – who we think hold our keys.

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