Holiday Fever: Causes and Cures
By Marcia Naomi Berger, MSW, LCSW
I don’t know about you, but I don’t like being told when I’m supposed to feel happy, generous, and loving toward absolutely everyone. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not a Bah Humbug Scrooge sort of person. I just want to be me, meaning to be happy and generous when I’m feeling that way in my heart, not when prescribed to be, well, saintly.
Enter the holiday season: Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Kwanza, Christmas, and probably others that may be beneath my radar. Whatever we celebrate or don’t, we’re bombarded with messages that promote goodwill toward all.
Actually, I like Thanksgiving because it reminds me to be grateful for all the bounty in my life my husband and son, my dear friends, other family members, my patients, my work and those who support it, including my writing friends, publishers, and readers of my book, Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love.
The Problem with Holidays
But I also have a problem with Thanksgiving and other holidays. My challenge of getting through them calmly is small compared to many whose families have gotten more complex than mine. Competing and conflicting loyalties often exist, as divorces, remarriages, blended families, and joint custody of children have become so common.
Thanksgiving in the abstract is lovely, yet it’s about the loneliest time of the year for me. It was my favorite holiday while I was growing up. My mother cooked an amazing meal with turkey, stuffing, candied sweet potatoes topped with melted, browned marshmallows, and much more. Friends and family members enjoyed feasting together. My sister and I would eat too much, and then each of us would collapse on a nearby couch and nap for a while, satiated with food, family and friendship.
So what’s the problem now? A New Yorker transplanted to San Francisco as a young adult, I find that Thanksgiving isn’t what it used to be. For a while, it was still good. At first, I went home to New York for Thanksgiving. The occasion felt warm, but the weather was cold so I switched to visiting in the summer.
Sadness Can Happen Around Holidays
My dear friend, Mimi, used to host wonderful Thanksgiving dinners in her San Francisco home. All single, we felt like an extended family, at least for that day. Sadly and too young, Mimi passed away some time ago. By then, my parents and my husband’s were longer alive.
Thanksgiving isn’t my favorite holiday now. It’s when I remember what used to be, when it was a time I felt so connected, nurtured, loving, and loved unconditionally.
My husband and I have hosted some Thanksgiving dinners. For a while, until a few years ago, our guests included a married couple who lived nearby and were good friends of ours. I cooked a turkey, stuffing, and sweet potatoes like my mother’s. The wife’s elderly parents came too. Her father said one time, “This is the best Thanksgiving I’ve ever had.” The couple moved to Arizona. The parents passed away.
Finding Ways to Cope
I tend to feel sad as this holiday approaches. I try to make the best of it. My husband and I go out to dinner, just the two of us; or we eat a light meal at home with some form of turkey; turkey breast, turkey burgers or turkey pot pie. No reason to cook a whole turkey. We’ve spent a few Thanksgivings at a ski area a few hours away. We ate turkey sandwiches there.
Holiday fever, sadness, or angst of some kind, creeps up on many of us. So what’s the cure? Gritting our teeth and willing ourselves to make the best of it?
Recognizing and Honoring Feelings
That’s something, but we can do better ¾ by allowing ourselves to feel whatever comes up for us. If it’s sadness, we can frown, complain, or shed a tear or two. Instead of ignoring the feelings and hoping they’ll go away, recognize and honor them, because if we don’t, they’ll fester. Our feelings are meaningful. They’ll pass if we acknowledge them, and doing so can release other feelings, the kind that free us up to be more optimistic, creative, or resourceful.
We may recall earlier holidays spent with loved ones and regret that these times are past. It’s important to grieve major losses. It also helps to remember that we’ve been blessed to have had these people and joyful times in our lives and that we can relive them, at least in our memories.
Memories can bring a smile. One of mine wasn’t funny at the time, but looking back much later. . . Early in my marriage, we had my in-laws over for Thanksgiving dinner. I’d knocked myself out, cooked a turkey with stuffing and all the trimmings, and pumpkin pie. My mother-in-law said, “My daughter’s turkey is better.” When I look back on this, I can’t help grinning. It’s fodder for mother-in-law jokes that comedians tell.
The Cure for Holiday Fever
Even if we don’t start the season with the warm fuzzy Hallmark greeting card feelings, there’s a cure for holiday fever: Allow yourself to feel your true feelings. They’re valid. And they will pass. Stay with them until more comforting feelings surface; such as those of gratitude for what we do have, e.g., a spouse, children, friends, family members, other loved ones, work we enjoy, enough money for necessities, and so on. A spirit of generosity and goodwill might just emerge that results in volunteering at a “soup kitchen” to serve a Thanksgiving or other holiday meal for the needy.
Holiday fever. The best way to get over it is to go through it. If you see signs in yourself of this malady, prepare the cure. Allow yourself to remember things past and to treasure them. But know you have a future too, one in which you can fill with plans to create your own kind of happiness during the season.