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Miss Conduct

Go and make memories

Advice on getting through the holidays for those who feel they can’t get through the holidays.

Lucy Truman

Lights! Turkey! Presents!

It’s Thanksgivukkah! Two great holidays that taste great together. My Jewish self will be celebrating with my Christian cousins in the Ozarks. They fry the turkey, I fry the latkes. I’ll bring dreidels and chocolate coins and teach the little ones how to play. There will never be another Thanksgiving like this one.

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Which of course is the case every year, funky interfaith synchronicities or no. You’re a year older, a subtly different person, navigating circumstances that may be subtly or drastically different.

I wrote my first “Guide to the Holidays” in 2006 and noted that “asking an advice columnist her opinion of the holiday season is rather like asking an emergency room physician her opinion of motorcycles. We rarely hear about the times when things work out well.” It’s even truer today, with the economy and the increasing ugliness of national politics exacerbating the usual holiday stressors.

This is why the “War on Christmas” nonsense dismays me: It makes it impossible to acknowledge the dark side of the holiday. The fact is, to channel Yakov Smirnoff, in capitalist America, Christmas makes war on you — if you’re poor, if you’re sick, if you love your family and can’t be with them or hate them and have to be. Worrying about the people who struggle on Christmas isn’t hating the holiday.

Jesus said that the Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath. Holidays and holy days are tools for living, not torturous forced marches. As you approach this holiday season, no matter how or what you celebrate, a few thoughts on how to make the season yours:

1) Celebrate this year’s holiday. Don’t make yourself crazy by trying to re-create some nostalgic fantasy or by deciding that every Christmas must be the “best Christmas ever.” Try to make it the most 2013 Christmas ever. Holidays should be about acknowledging the passage of time, not trying to stop it. Sometimes this means a radical break with traditions — I took my mother to New York for Christmas the year after my father’s death. Sometimes it is as simple as everyone taking a moment before Thanksgiving dinner to say what they are grateful for this year.

2) If you can’t celebrate, observe. Jews “observe” holidays, primarily because celebrating Yom Kippur is doing it wrong. It’s a humane and useful distinction: Holidays aren’t always fun, fun, fun, and there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that. There are social rituals worth participating in (office parties, I’m looking at you), even if you don’t enjoy them. If you are mourning a loved one, maybe Christmas intensifies that. Don’t judge your feelings.

3) If you can’t have a good time, have a good story. Plans for our first Thanksgiving in Boston fell through the night before, leaving my boyfriend and me no time to make alternative arrangements. Ignorant of blue laws, we tramped 10 miles in search of a store that would sell us booze, winding up at the Bull & Finch, where nobody knew our name or even seemed aware of our presence. Drinking overpriced shots in a tourist-crammed stage set, with nothing in the cupboard but ramen, I decided this city would not break me. I would plan better and learn its ways and become what I didn’t yet know was Boston Strong. It was the worst Thanksgiving ever. It was the best Thanksgiving ever.

Holidays are for making memories. Make some good ones this year.

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.


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