Let people celebrate in their own ways

Monday, November 17, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 11:25 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Until a few years ago, I suffered from anniversary blues during this time of year. This is a condition that affects some people annually around the dates when they have undergone traumatic experiences. As it happened, my anniversaries coincided with the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas, when some folks experience unadulterated joy. When I spoke to my therapist friends, they told me that there were many, many people who suffered the same thing. The situation only caused me trouble the few times I had to do business with immature people. These folks always jump to the conclusion that everybody feels the same way they do about everything.

Fortunately, I got past all that after awhile, but it left a lasting impression. And so every year around this time I try to get the message out that, “Your thrill is not everybody’s thrill, so try to keep a lid on it, whatever it is.” Most people, especially those who move in wider, more diverse circles, are always conscious of religious differences. There is probably no other time during the year when people need to be as aware of social and cultural differences among their friends and colleagues as during the holidays.

In spite of the “blues,” I have probably had more wonderful holidays in my life than a lot of folks. When you grow up in a large family where everyone lives nearby and family members are on good terms, holidays usually are full of warm memories. Over the years, though, I’ve learned that a lot of those great memories depend on the kind of family you grew up in and the social climate during those times.

Some of my friends grew up in families that professionals tend to describe as dysfunctional. Sibling rivalry, differing expectations and caustic parental attitudes tend to disrupt every attempt these families make to share any event. We all know family members who will go to any length, including taking trips around the world, to avoid gathering with their kinfolk. Then there are the blended families which include stepparents, stepchildren and quite often stepgrandparents. Considering that all these people have various family upbringings, customs and traditions, the likelihood that they will all enjoy each other’s company is pretty small.

I have friends who have split with their families over the issue of whether the gifts should be opened on Christmas Eve or Christmas morn. And, in some cases, these family splits have left permanent scars. In other words, it’s just common sense to realize that there are at least dozens of reasons why not everyone looks forward to the holidays.

I have had at least one woman tell me that the only time she’s happy throughout the year is during the holiday season. She says it provides her with an excuse to forget all the unpleasant things going on in her life and pretend everything is wonderful. I’ve also known a woman who kept her house decorated all year for Christmas. She not only kept up her tree, but the towels in her bathroom and the wreath on her front door bore seasonal themes. I am sure there are deeply rooted, psychological explanations that account for these women’s behaviors, but I confess I really don’t want to know what they are.

The varied ways that people deal with the holiday season have made me aware that there are all kinds of emotional responses, both pleasant and unpleasant that come into play at this time. I have found that it’s good to tread softly if we hope to enjoy “peace on earth and goodwill toward men” as we engage in celebration.

Although I no longer suffer the effects of anniversary blues, as a general practice, I tend to avoid people who go overboard this time of year. I prefer to celebrate in simple, quiet ways. I try to remember that the year has been a particularly trying one for many people. This year, for example, has been hard for those whose children and spouses are fighting the war.

Anyway, we have journeyed down a rugged path since the first American Christmas. For better and for worse, we have thrown out a lot of the old and taken on a lot of the new. Where it all will end, nobody knows. Still, above all else, it’s a great season for giving thanks.

Treating other people’s feelings with respect will go a long way toward keeping the season joyful. You can’t always drive other people’s “blues” away, but you can do your part in allowing them the privacy they need to work their problems out.

It’s another way of practicing the golden rule.

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at

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