Sunday, December 30, 2007

Bringing Back the Light

All week I've been listening to tales of holiday drama from clients and friends. Every one of the stories involves arguments among family members. "My brother picked a fight with me," "My mother and I were at each other's throats," "The kids had to be separated to keep from killing each other," "My husband is beastly at Christmas." Etc. At the end of every story, the people say, "Why can't my family have a NICE Christmas?"

I'm not saying everyone is doomed to have a terrible time at Christmas, but it does seem to be a common experience. Naturally, having heard so many stories of holiday sturm und drang I've developed a theory. Maybe all the conflict is instinctual, maybe once upon a time it served a purpose, at least ritually.

In my imagination I travel back in time 12,000 years to the end of the Ice Age. I sit quietly at the edge of the fire circle and watch my ancestors celebrate winter solstice. The celebration doesn't look that different than what we do now, except in 2007 we have better outfits and whiter teeth. Back in 10,000 B.C., I see a bunch of people gathered around the fire. There's a lot of drinking and eating, big fires, dancing, loud talking, boisterous laughter and ... yes ... I see arguing. Or at least some kind of ritualized jousting, head banging or mock battle. Why? Because conflict creates energy. Get angry and you'll warm up right away. Friction among people stirs things up, creates a certain kind of (uncomfortable) light, but at least it's light, and at winter solstice any light is better than no light. Right? ... Well ... maybe!

Conflict, too, can help clear problems or resentments that have been festering for awhile and need to get cleaned up before the new year begins. Maybe some of the angry outbursts serve a psychological purpose as well.

Coming back through time to 2007, what I see is the same behavior, but less consciousness around why we continue to make such a fuss at solstice. Also we are now so harsh and judgmental towards ourselves and each other, maybe because we can't remember that this is normal holiday behavior. We expect perfection from each other and ourselves no matter how stressed out we are. What a shame.

I believe in my heart of hearts that people aren't that different now than we've ever been. We like to think of ourselves as evolved, so rational and intelligent - so modern. But every year as the days grow shorter, still, we throw ourselves into a frenzy, sacrifice ourselves to the rigors of the holidays, make offerings until our bank accounts are depleted and we're completely frazzled. Small wonder that so many of us breathe a sigh of relief on New Year's Day when we can finally relax again.

Really it's sweet, when you think about it. It's an act of valour, flopping around and doing the best we can to get through winter even though we've become virtually disconnected from the cycle of the year. A salute to our once and future quirkiness, so characteristic of our species.

Same as it ever was.


Absolute Vanilla (& Atyllah) said...

Hmm, perhaps that explains why Christmas just doesn't work here - who needs to get all hot and bothered when it's already hot! ;-)

I'm inclined to think that Christmas angst comes with expectations that are too high. There is a societal view that says Christmas should be a happy time, we should all be jolly, it's the time for giving etc etc. That in itself creates huge stress. And the inner child in each of us so wants Christmas to be perfect and magical but because we are who and what we are, we really expect far too much of ourselves and it's hardly surprising then that there's so much fallout. We all know that Christmas isn't all the wonderful things "it's meant to be" and every year we fall into the same trap and selfsame disappointments and behavioural patterns. Quirky and decidedly nutty!

d. chedwick bryant said...

wow, I never looked at it this way, but I have to agree with you--it would make sense to clear the air.

I would say we argued more at summer picnics (politics was the number one thing to argue about in my huge family)

But two of my sisters were locked in some nasty eternal battle since early childhood. --they just snubbed each other as much as possible, or one would leave the party. Dramatic scenes never occured at Christmastime. Maybe people were mellower back then!

hele said...


I enjoyed that.

Steve said...

Maybe you're on to something! My family actually didn't squabble at all - but sometimes I think we'd be better off with a good fight. There's a lot to be said for air-clearing!

I think "vanilla" is on to something too - the incredibly idealistic expectations people have for the holidays. People get angry when things don't work out like they "should," just like they do in relationships or at the office. Oh, those darned "shoulds"!

Anonymous said...

I have to say, Kenny's Bar B Q is very eye catching, and clean looking-- almost tempting!
the last shot of the pool/puddle. How sad and lovely it is, water is amazing .

the bricks and moss in that shot-- it is a clean and fresh and melaoncholy shot all at once. Life goes on.