Attempting to Make Christmas Not Suck This Year

I always seem to get a near fatal cold this time of year that lodges itself in sinus cavity like some hibernating bear, causing excruciating pain and a malaise that lasts well into the New Year.

Let’s be frank, it’s all in my head. And I am not talking about the infection. I am talking about the stress-induced depression. Call it a seasonal syndrome. Call it Black Friday taken too literally. Who the fuck knows?  I just know that I can’t wait for the first week of January even if that involves the bleak start of a long cold winter in New England.

I know this is suppose to be the season of joy but it has always been the season of pressure and unfulfilled expectations as far as I am concerned–a birthday just 10 days before Christmas growing up made it challenging as a kid. And managing my way through being a divorced dad made it challenging as an adult.

But this morning as I sat in church listening to a sermon on the first Sunday in advent, I wondered to myself if it was possible to shed my skin of seasonal depression and grab ahold of something much simpler than all the materialism run amuck?  Can I make my living hell into something that filled my heart with something other than palpitations?

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Just to give you a little context, my daughter will be home from her freshman year of college, my big son is 16 and his younger brother is 7 (prime Santa year). On December 16th I will be 48 years old. On December 28th my wife and I will be celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary and I will be 16 years away from my last drink

We are headed to Florida to visit my in-laws for Christmas and to Vermont to ski with friends for New Years.

This is hardly a story of a homeless man looking for a cup of coffee on a heating grate surrounded by a cardboard box in midtown.

My life is good. Damn good. I just need to get my head out of my ass long enough to realize that. Maybe it’s just a matter of taking the pressure off myself to do and be something more than I already am.

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A crazy thing has been happening recently. I’ve noticed that I am just a little more patient than I once was. I don’t lose my mind quite as quickly. The flashes of anger pass without my having to say anything.

Sitting in church the thought passed through my head that maybe the key to alleviating holiday depression isn’t doing more it’s doing a whole lot less. I always think that I have to give just the right gift, say just the right thing, and act just the right way. And I can’t possible do it without losing my soul. So I get pissed. And sad.

I was staring at this beautiful stained glass window and for an instant I felt that I was missing the point entirely. If the idea is that it’s a season of miracles, than forcing the issue will never work. If Christ was born to show all that are sins are forgiven than no amount of repenting and stretching and bitching is going to change anything. We are already all right. We are already saved. No need to shop for just the right holiday gift to prove it.

I don’t know of I can hold onto the conviction to be rather than do during the next 30 days but I am going to try like hell. And I welcome you to join me.

Let’s celebrate the beauty of life and our loved ones with no particular expectation of what that has to look like. It can be the stillness of a December night or the feeling of cuddling before a roaring fire.

I may still fall into my seasonal darkness but I am really going to try not to this year. I have so very much to be grateful for.

How about you?

 

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About Tom Matlack

Tom Matlack is the co-founder of The Good Men Project. He has a 18-year-old daughter and 16- and 7-year-old sons. His wife, Elena, is the love of his life. Follow him on Twitter @TMatlack.

Comments

  1. I love this. I couldn’t agree with you more fiercely that the way to joy in this season of unmeetable expectations is doing less. I like to sit and just watch the lights on the tree. Alone. For a long time. It’s remarkably peaceful, and sometimes something akin to joy even creeps in. xox

  2. If I could bring one thing home from the Czech Republic with me it would be the town square. It is the center of town filled with people and activity year round but this month it transforms into something truly special. I am living in Ceske Budejovice , 2 hours south of Prague, and the advent season is in full swing here. The square is filled with a Christmas market which consists of vendors selling home made crafts, traditional Czech food and drink, pony rides and a stage for music and shows. Surrounding the square are outdoor booths all selling hot wine and a variety of ciders. The place is magnetic in a way that somehow you find yourself ending up there everyday with friends to enjoy a drink or treat together and just hang out and chat. All around are families and other groups of friends in no particular hurry to do much more than just be together. This is what the Christmas season feels like. It shouldn’t be a stressful trip to a packed mall. It shouldn’t be trying to squeeze in a quick visit with friends and family just to check it off the to do list. I hope your holidays are great Tom, I think by slowing ourselves down and just enjoying the moments for what they are instead of trying to manufacture something special, we can actually *gasp* enjoy the holidays. Safe travels buddy. Andrew

    • Brett Languirand says:

      Well said Andrew. I have so much respect for you being able to maintain a healthy family life and friendships while being a successful professional athlete. You are a class act, and all your family, friends, and fans appreciate it.

      Have an awesome Christmas, and happy new year.

      I look forward to seeing you back in black and gold, hopefully sooner than later.

      -Brett Languirand (Boston, MA)

    • Tom Matlack says:

      Thanks Andrew. I was talking to some rabid Flyers fan the other day and your name came up. He admitted to hating you. “He is just so damn good,” he said. But he also admitted, “and you just can’t hate him, really. He’s just such a solid human being on top of everything else. It would be a lot easier to take when he robbed my heart on some defensive play if I knew he was a knucklehead off the ice.”

      My experience hanging out is pretty much what you describe the Czech square. You are one of the kindest, most thoughtful guys I have run across. In the back of my head I know you kick ass on the ice but honestly most the time it’s just two guys talking about the important stuff of life. So I thank you for checking in here and keeping it real, as always.

  3. Adam R. Saslow says:

    Tom… your message to do is both poignant and timely.

    I am struggling with the notion of choice today and coincidentally just hours ago evoked the term “Grinch” to describe an older gentleman’s bitterness. A bit of context… this gentleman’s wife is terminally ill and presently in the hospital. He has known of her struggle with MS for years and so the state of play is neither foreign nor unexpected. This gentleman’s daughter… is the only woman I have ever loved.

    Oftentimes tragedies such as his soften a heart – causing an individual to look beyond his own sphere and seek comfort, solace and support from others. Sometimes it hardens a heart. Somewhere in that mix is a choice.

    Now this man… has made my life extraordinarily difficult these last four years. His disdain for me is clear (though I have never understood why – he will not sit down and have an adult conversation) and he has worked hard to ensure that his daughter can not fulfill her dreams of partnership.

    Nevertheless, tragedy and hardship sometimes require a good men to be bigger than he might normally be – to rise above and go beyond. Last week I did just that… offering support, prayer and kind words in his moment of need. I did not seek a word of kindness in return nor did I want for any positive recognition or acknowledgment. But the Grinch in this man lives on. No measure of kindness can soften his heart. I am told that he read my words and SCREAMED at his daughter relating that he did not care.

    I sit here today reflecting upon the Grinch that exists beneath the surface in all of us… and the choices we make to let him out or keep him hidden. I sit here reflecting on the propriety of offering a kind word whether in support of a tragic event or in the spirit of the Holidays. After all, when a Grinch wants to rob you of your “Pop guns! And bicycles! Roller skates! Drums! Checkerboards! Tricycles! Popcorn! And plums…” can we really teach him that there’s some greater meaning? Can we really make his Grinch heart grow three sizes in one day?

    Not unless the Grinch himself chooses to find joy in Who-ville…

    And I think what I learned today from Tom… and in my own life lesson… is that the Grinch needs to puzzle and puzz till his puzzler is sore. And the Grinch needs to think of something he hadn’t before. Maybe Christmas, maybe life, maybe love doesn’t come from a store. Maybe these things, perhaps… mean a little bit more!

    Congratulations to Tom… your puzzler may be sore… but you found the strength of TEN Grinches today… plus two.

  4. Tom. You may, like 1.8 million other people have already seen this video but it is, at this time of year, worth remembering.

    Last December I happened across this short video from Louis Schwartzenberg.(link at the bottom). It flash flooded my heart. It stopped me in my tracks and pointed me towards a route back to simple awe. Still now, one year later, it gives me pause to remember the incomprehensible beauty and possibility in being alive, in being human. When I began to embrace this inside myself I found it flowed without effort to those around me.
    But fair warning: when you open your heart like this, a fuller grasp of the beauty around you will bring both uncontrollable joy and tears when you least expect it, an overflowing heart that you cannot contain.
    Perhaps this can be the starting point to a simpler, more meaningful Christmas. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gXDMoiEkyuQ

  5. Very nice read – I’m attempting to make Christmas not suck by offering to send holiday cards to people, whether I know them or not – I’ve posted the offer on twitter, though it didn’t really take off the way I hoped – But it is my attempt at blurring the sadness that inevitably haunts me this time of year – Focus on doing something I would enjoy and reaching out a little bit in hopes that I could bring a little piece of joy to someone. Who doesn’t enjoy receiving personal mail?

    You are taking steps to alleviate some of the seasonal gloom and I think this article will inspire many to do the same!

  6. I taught my daughters (no sons) an important lesson. Happiness is a choice. If we are unhappy it’s time to make new choices, which is just what you’re doing. Good for you.

    Antidepressants were my best friend from late fall into early spring. The short days were hard on me. I’ve switched from an antidepressant to Vitamin D. Short days equal less time in the sun equals absorbing less D. I feel a million times better, like myself now. I’ve been taking it for five or six years.

    Enjoy your trips! My parents are at Disney World (ages 67 and 70) for Christmas. Skiing in Vermont sounds great. Have a good time!

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