By Anastasia Lynge
Anyone who knows me well knows that the two most difficult days of the year for me are holidays – specifically Thanksgiving and Christmas. I typically spend these days hiding away in bed, watching bad TV, and sleeping until I can rest assured that I’ve made it through another round of winter holidays. I emotionally detach from the world, too overwhelmed by the idea of festivities to bear being participating in them.
In truth, I don’t remember many of my childhood Thanksgivings and Christmases. I know that they were filled with fights amongst my various family members, guilt over not being able to have enough gifts for everyone, and feeling like there was nothing to be thankful or joyous about. Growing up in a low income household, I didn’t expect these days to be massive celebrations like the ones I saw in Macy’s advertisements. I did, however, fantasize about my entire family opening Christmas presents together under the tree, rather than all of us sitting dejectedly on the couch.
The holidays always meant making hard choices. Someone was always left out. My family was never together, around our worn wooden dining table. People couldn’t afford to make it, had been called in to work, or just weren’t invited, because my household was plagued by class-related complex generational trauma. We were all affected, but none of us talked about it. The holidays were just another reminder of the hard choices we had all made, choices that had driven us apart and forced us into isolation. They were also a reminder of the things we had done to each other, and how we had pushed each other away. In many ways, Thanksgiving and Christmas became moratoriums to my family, days to mourn the loss of relationships that were to never be mended.
Being a full time, first generation college student has meant making even more difficult decisions. During Thanksgiving Break, my partner and I spent a week visiting my hometown. It was the first time I’d been back in nearly a year. It was the first Thanksgiving I had spent with my family since I’d moved for school, nearly four years earlier. We stayed in a spare room in my mom’s section 8 unit. I felt a deep sense of shame in showing my partner where I spent much of my childhood. I didn’t want him to see where I had grown up. I was afraid of his judgement, though I wasn’t threatened by it. Even when he assured me that he could never feel bias towards me because of my family’s class status, I still felt like I needed to hide where I came from, because it wasn’t good enough. The weight of my shame followed us throughout the week, appearing everywhere, from that spare room in my mother’s apartment to the dinner table with my father and stepmother, who were busy carving the turkey in their modest one-story ranch house.
I couldn’t afford to fly home again for Christmas so I spent Christmas with my partner and his family, on the South Shore of Boston. We had a full celebration, complete with Christmas stockings, Crock Pot clam chowder, and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation in surround sound. Again, I spent the day engulfed by guilt. I spent hours crying in front of the television, marvelling at my inability to feel the holiday spirit despite the fact that it surrounded me (and despite the strong eggnog my partner’s mother kept insisting I drink).
The day felt shorter than it was. Perhaps it was the two naps or the eggnog that made it go by quicker, but at the end of our celebration, I realized that all these holidays I had been dreading were, really, just normal days. Christmas and Thanksgiving will always be painful for me. I will always have to overcome sadness and grief. I won’t always be able to be with my biological family on these days. But there is no reason to feel guilt, or shame about what I haven’t had in the past. I was able to spend both Thanksgiving and Christmas in 2019 with my family; one biological, and one chosen.
Growing up in a fractured family taught me one thing: family is not forever. No matter how much we had or didn’t have, conflicts always led to the shattering of relationships. No gift, special meal, or Christmas mass would be enough to bring us together. For years, I let those feelings of loss consume me until they were all I could focus on. But this year showed me that I can choose my family. I can choose the kind of day I have, the way that I celebrate. I can choose who I am with and what kind of energy we bring into the day. Sadness is okay for me for me, as long as II have people to hold that sadness with me.
Too many of us are forced to mourn our losses during the holidays. We remind ourselves of what we don’t have, and likely will never have. Perhaps we all need a little less loneliness. After all, company doesn’t cost a thing.
Anastasia Lynge is a senior at Smith College in Northampton, MA studying Sociology and Gender Studies. She is currently a consultant for Class Action, running the social media for the organization, and co authored the Staffing the Mission report, released in the fall of 2019.