Giftmas isn’t the wholly inclusive holiday we like to imagine it is (those of us who are deeply into it, I mean). There are a lot of people who suffer the winter holidays as they suffer winter itself; eager to put it behind them, and wishing to see the sun again. It’s complicated being human.

When we are told to “be happy”, it can make us feel ever so much more miserable that we seem unable to achieve that for ourselves.

When we have the religious values of one or many faiths thrust upon us repeatedly, for weeks, as secular human beings who don’t practice a faith at all, we may feel excluded from practicing community and culture, itself. We may feel invisible, and unappreciated, as human beings.

When we are bombarded with media marketing for luxury goods “on sale” that we can’t envision ever being able to afford at any price, it can make us feel like outsiders in our communities and our world – trapped.

When we hear “glad tidings” of “comfort and joy” on every radio station, every streaming service, every TV advertisement, and in every retail store or restaurant, while we grieve the loss of loved ones, it can make us feel very much as if the world doesn’t see us here at all.

The result is often that we punish ourselves with our misery, even to the point of feeling guilty or ashamed that we don’t “get it” or “enjoy all that”. That’s pretty shitty, and it’s not fun, and it is uncomfortable. Any of that. All of it.

I’m very merry at Giftmas, myself. In spite of not being a practicing Christian (see: “Giftmas”), in spite of many years of being not at all “happy”, in spite of having very little money in many years (and this one) to spend on gifts, charity, or feasting, in spite of grieving poignant painful losses: I am merry, each Giftmas. I even want to share how that can be a thing.

A good beginning.

There’s no money to splash around on luxurious lavish gifts and frippery this year (and nothing in the picture above required me to spend any money, this year; it’s built on what I already had, and have cared for, for a lifetime), instead, I’ll share “How to be Merry at Giftmas”. πŸ˜€ It’s a simple enough idea, in it’s most basic form; make it yours. That’s basically it, summarized. I know, I know, saying something super simple to communicate something nuanced is a bit of a cheat, intended to make it feel accessible, but sometimes missing the most important points. So. Ready? Merry Giftmas, Y’all! Here we go!

The magical Giftmas that almost wasn’t.

Start with where you are. Start with who you are. Your authentic self, your actual values, your own vision.

I grew up in the midst of violence, emotional, physical, sexual (and uncomfortably commonplace in the culture). Guns, alcohol, and rage just… every-fucking-where. Poverty. Trauma. Chaos. Fear. Learned helplessness. Abuse. Gas-lighting. Rather peculiarly, each year that I can clearly recall (sorry, head trauma, right?), it seemed as if “Christmas time” was some sort of surreal cease-fire in the household hostilities (and somehow, even out in the world). “Healing” wasn’t even on my radar yet; I still had an additional lifetime of further trauma, turmoil, and heartbreak ahead me, that I could not even see. (It’s likely that, in some measure, a great many of us do, actually, regardless where we stand right now. Sorry.) Something about the holidays stuck with me; the best bits, actually. Grand holidays meals when far away family arrived to join us at the table. Mornings of twinkle lights and brunch recipes untasted at any other time ofΒ  year. Gifts. Out of the pain, out of the chaos, for some weird reason, once a year we all sat down together and exchanged gifts. Gifts. We took from our own resources, to give of ourselves to each other. All of it amounted to an extraordinary departure of all of the routines. It seemed… magical.

I have come so far from this place.

My first “Christmas” as an adult, at 18, was… weird. I was in the Army. I was in advance training (and for fuck’s sake already married??), and I went “home” (to my parents house, at my new husband’s instance, even though I was deliberating estranging myself from them, for… reasons). It wasn’t much of a holiday. Uncomfortable, strained by the presence of a stranger (my new husband). I don’t actually recall it at all clearly; I was working too hard trying to live everyone else’s vision of what my life should look like to really make sense out of it, at all. It would have been… 1981?

My Giftmas stocking – and how I keep track of where I was each Giftmas. πŸ˜€

That was the missing puzzle piece; an understanding of what it takes to make a holiday, myself. See, that’s the thing; we have choices. The day, the season, the time, these are ours to make as we wish to experience them.

I re-created my vision of Giftmas that year, made it over based on my own vision of celebrating the winter holidays, and Yule, in accordance with my own understanding of the “meaning of the season”, which, speaking frankly, has nothing to do with gods or religions, and everything to do with community, charity, gratitude, love, and celebration. It’s winter. We’re all stretched a bit thin at the end of the year – it made sense to me that my Giftmas could be a celebration of sharing, fitting the cultural practices, and keeping all of what I love about the winter holidays, and letting go of all of what did not suit me, personally. I enjoy the merriment. I enjoy the moment to celebrate lost loved ones and honored departed, yes, and still be merry – there is no shame in our tears, or our joy. I love to give a friend some small thing, to say “thank you”, “I love you”, “you mean something to me”, or even just “I know it’s been hard this year”. We’re all in this together, each having our own experience, and each year we have this colossal near-global cross-cultural celebration that clearly extends well-beyond the reach of any one faith; it’s just not really at all about religion. Any religion. lol It’s about everything else, so joyously and so much that any religion within it’s sphere of influence wants a piece of that pie. Me too. So – I celebrate Giftmas. It’s an honest celebration of plenty-amidst-famine, and I celebrate lavishly and generously when I have a lot, and I celebrate joyously and heartily with whatever I’ve got when times are tough. I generally celebrate the season as commencing with the Thanksgiving meal – a season of gratitude and sharing – and I celebrate until I end the holiday season with New Year’s Day with my personal “One Hour” celebration (a contemplative time to explore the past, and plan for the future). It’s scalable sort of holiday, for me, that I can blow out of all reasonable proportion in times of plenty, and still enjoy with irrepressible joy in times of privation. That’s right. I think Giftmas lasts more than a month. LOL πŸ˜€

Actually, I take the long holiday season so seriously that I regularly give gifts randomly all through the season; nothing gives a beat down to a stressful moment like an authentic expression of value in the form of a small unexpected gift, or a moment over a holiday treat. πŸ˜€ Certainly, there is no legitimate reason to ration connection, presence, or joy. πŸ˜‰

It’s okay to feel deeply. It’s very human. I even raise a glass to my Dad.

It does take practice. Sometimes there are poignant moments. I’ve shed many tears either putting up, or taking down, the holiday tree; every ornament has real meaning for me. Gathered with care over many years, each is like a tiny memory box, bringing back floods of emotion, and memories untapped any other time of year (not all of them are pleasant, and I often remind myself that the way outΒ  is through). I have reflected on so many holidays, and taken from them what worked for me. This is the secret sauce, and the source of merriment; this holiday is mine.

Like our lives, a celebration is built on so many things. Yeah, there are verbs involved.

Merry Giftmas, friends and readers and friends who are readers, and humans I don’t know at all. Make of it what you will. May the season show you magic and wonder – and may you be the creator of magic and wonder in someone else’s holiday. May the year ahead show us each the path to being the human being we most want to be, and may the journey to become that person be enlightening, and maybe not to terribly difficult. πŸ˜‰

Are you having a rough holiday season this year? Please – oh please, dear one, please begin again! ❀