Mel Graykin: For some, it’s not a season of merriment

For the Monitor
Published: 12/22/2016 12:25:04 AM

Happy Holidays. This time of year the air fairly hums with busy preparations for festivity. And for those who love this time of year, by all means, revel in it. I enjoy seeing your breathless enthusiasm, and don’t mind at all your cheery wishes of “Merry Christmas!” even though I don’t celebrate it myself.

I welcome the inspiration to be charitable, to give freely, to wish for Peace on Earth and Joy to the World. Worthy sentiments all.

But I’d like to take a moment to see beneath the shine of tinsel and acknowledge those for whom this is not such a joyful time of year.

2016 has not been kind to many of us. Some have suffered terrible losses. It may be difficult to summon the spirit for celebration. Perhaps it is an empty chair at the table, the first Christmas without the presence of someone deeply loved. Perhaps the family has fractured, traditions disrupted, and Christmas just rams home what has been lost.

I admire those who bravely make the best of it, putting on a smile for the benefit of others, striving to salvage what happiness they can. But the pain is there all the same, isn’t it?

For people who already have busy lives, the holidays add an extra layer of stress. There is so much to do, shopping for gifts, planning visits, decorating, parties, obligations. It can become so overwhelming that one feels like weeping.

Christmas preaches the joy of family togetherness; everyone is expected to go home for the holidays. For some this can be a no-win situation. Attending the family gathering means confronting the friction and baggage of dysfunction. Staying away only spotlights the issue by one’s glaring absence.

Never mind enjoying the holidays; just surviving them without dropping any balls or offending anybody can be all one hopes for.

Many of us are struggling to make ends meet, living from paycheck to paycheck, doing without simply to keep a roof over our heads. And then we get hit with exhortations to buy, buy, buy because ‘tis the season. Don’t be a Grinch. You want to make the ones you love happy, don’t you? Be a part of the magic of Christmas! It only comes but once a year, and hey, you can always just put it on the credit card, right? It’s on sale, it’s a bargain, what’s money when it comes to making others happy?

Either we resist the urge to spend money we don’t have and feel guilty, or give in and slide further into anxiety and debt.

Even if you try to give Christmas a pass, it is nearly impossible. Christmas music, commercials, holiday-themed events, Yankee swaps at work and every business decorated, Santa’s Coca-Cola smile beaming out everywhere you turn.

Non-Christians are pressured into celebrating anyway, bludgeoned by the National Secular Christmas Holiday. Christians who simply want a quiet, reverent recognition of their Savior’s birth feel like the day has been hijacked for commercial purposes, and they are not wrong.

And so, dear readers, if you are among those for whom this season is less than joyous, you have my sympathy. We’ll get through it the best we can, as we always do.

And if this Christmas is especially difficult due to a death, divorce, bankruptcy or some other bitter blow, my sincerest condolences. Give yourself permission to acknowledge your sadness without guilt, despite the pressure surrounding you to express a happiness you don’t feel. Know that you are not alone.

It’s okay. You don’t have to be Merry this Christmas.

Instead, I wish you a Happy New Year, a year of healing, of recovery, of reflection and changes for the better. I wish you a year of peace and hope.

(Justine “Mel” Graykin lives and writes in Deerfield, and practices freelance philosophy on her website at

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