It’s that time of year again, and despite finally being in an area that has actual seasons, which is something I’ve wished for after years of watching the most banal yet heartwarming holiday movies, I’ve found my limited holiday cheer is for the most part, already exhausted.
My experience with the holiday season is complicated, and has been a bit less magical since I found out that there isn’t actually a fat man in red suit who tumbles down the chimney in the middle of the night to deliver gifts for my brother and I. The Santa Clause myth is a bit of a stretch once you get to the age where any form of critical thinking begins to happen, but despite this, there was always a part of me towards the end of that realisation that wanted it to be real so badly because it meant that there was some sort of ounce of magic still out there in this world. Increased viewings of Harry Potter around this time of year probably didn’t help my optimistic outlook either. Regardless, when Christmas began to lose a bit of that holiday spark, I searched for it at the beginning of December each consecutive year, hoping that one day it would come back. I lived for that reflective nostalgia of my early Christmas self, chasing its tail hoping that I would one day have the opportunity to catch it and hold it again.
But since then, the holidays have begun to lack that glow, that wonder and excitement fashioned so perfectly through the eyes of our childhood selves: our hearts full and bloated with the early morning promise of finding gifts under the tree, our faces stuffed with treats, then downed with gulps of eggnog (because Christmas meant vegetables were a soft maybe, and desserts were a must), our blankets wrapped like cloaks around us, soft and as warm as our hands covered in mittens and brought up to bask in the heat from the kindling burning in the fireplace. Maybe my mind has become clouded with the romanticism of the past, but during this time of year, I can’t help but reminisce in the absence of home.
In college, the holidays meant that finals were over and I got to go rest for a couple of weeks before making the trek back up to Tennessee for another semester. They were an escape from reality, from responsibility, from all the drama that I left behind as soon as I ducked under the Thank you for visiting, come back soon! sign under the interstate bridge that brought me that much closer to home. Christmas meant shopping, tacky sweaters, and drinking mulled wine and hot toddies at midnight alongside old friends. It was the stress of finding the near perfect gift, while also balancing and toeing the line between childhood and young adulthood. The holidays still, but with more hangovers, late night pancake runs, and sharing ridiculous stories from back at school, which we embellished and drenched with silly details that we claimed were true.
But today as I sat in my bed drinking coffee, listening to the soft melody of the piano dance back and forth between notes, I cried. It was strange, foreign, and embarrassing even in the comfort of my own room. It was as if I had forgotten how to, as if my body had become numb alongside the decaying trees and grey skies I found outside my fourth story window. A few days ago, my father texted me saying that my mother had been on the phone with my grandmother, talking about all the Christmas activities I would be doing if I was at home with her, instead of over here (I replied with: Why are you guilt tripping me so close to my vacation..?). Then, this morning, my mother texted me, saying she missed me, and attached a picture of an ornament we have hanging on the tree: a picture of a tiny me in a red sweater and toothless smile: My First Christmas.
When I was little I spent my Christmas’ believing in the promise of Santa Clause, sleigh bells, magic, and reindeer, ignoring everything else that came with the season if it wasn’t packaged and placed under the tree. When I think back to those years, I remember watching Elf, curled up in a blanket sitting next to my parents. I remember my father’s laugh, loud and echoing when Buddy, after a ridiculous burp, turned to his younger step-brother and asked confidently, “Did you hear that?” I remember waking up early, creeping down the stairs with my brother, peering through the railing, grabbing our stockings and running back to our rooms on our tiptoes – no doubt still managing to wake up my parents. We would toss our gifts back and forth to one another on the bed, unwrap chocolate and giggle until 8am. I remember being read The Night Before Christmas and The Polar Express aloud in bed, with promises of sleep that would inevitably be broken the moment I heard my parents footsteps creak on the stairs. I remember my father coming into my room late one night, telling me that there was a news report that Santa had been spotted flying over San Antonio, so I needed to go to sleep Right. Now. I remember the smell of pumpkin muffins with one too many scoops of whipped cream on top for breakfast. I remember how every year my mom would yell at my dad to stop taking pictures of her so early in the morning, and he would say okay, laugh, then do it anyway, and she would laugh right back, her hot chocolate clutched tightly in her hands.
This year, I won’t traipse alongside my mother and aunt while we go to the annual Armadillo Christmas Bazaar. I won’t get to drag my brother for mandatory sibling bonding at the Trail of Lights, with promises of breakfast for dinner at Kerbey Lane, hot chocolate and caramel flavoured kettle corn. I won’t get to listen to my father complain about the ridiculous crowds at Mozart’s while we look for a spot to watch the light show. This year I won’t roll out of bed to the smell of gingerbread, peppermint hot chocolate, and frittata, and sit in the living room handing out small gifts to my family. I won’t sit curled up against the cushions in my slippers, occasionally petting my dog who, despite experiencing this for over a decade, still doesn’t know how to respond to the sound of wrapping paper. I won’t get to go to my grandmothers for Christmas dinner. I won’t get to eat pumpkin pie, ham, or Brussels sprouts, or any other dish that reminds me how lucky I am to have the family I’ve been blessed with.
This year instead, I will spend my Christmas in Japan, and trade my family for another. Three months ago, this was a perfect plan, but as the days get closer I’m increasingly unsure. The adventurous part of myself craved another adventure, craved a visit a place I’ve been wanting to go for as long as I can remember, craved to be somewhere with someone who gave me some semblance of my life before I left America, my life before I graduated.
I’ve yet to plan anything beyond my booked plane tickets. Travel sites remain opened but unread. Tokyo video blogs remain unwatched, paused and on mute. I’m suddenly unmotivated and out of touch with those around me. I imagine that I’ve arrived at another stepping stone, another point of pretend and irrelevant growth which I’ve managed to blow up into an emotional catastrophe of “too much,” a trademark of my entirely too sensitive and perceptive self. Regardless, here I am, not nearly ready to embrace the Christmas season, but barrelling towards it with unimaginable speed.