The Holiday Hellidays Stress Test Shit Show: Starring You!

(I’ll preface this by saying: I wrote this post once, WordPress logged me out right at the end, then wouldn’t save and erased the whole bloody thing. Ha ha ha ha, ha ha ha, please excuse my loud and egregious sobbing. Now I will rewrite the entire post from memory, and given that I have a memory like mouse-eaten underwear, it will probably look nothing like I originally intended.)

The holidays are fucking hard. Fuuu-huuu-huuuu-king hard.

Here’s the deal with the holidays:

All the things you have to normally do in your life? Work, kids, pets, family, bills, grocery shopping, regular shopping, chores, cleaning, repairs, masturbation, whatever — you still have to do all that, and you get the same amount of time to complete those tasks. Except now? Now you’ve got a mad-eyed elf hunkered down on your shoulder, and he’s got a holly jolly handgun pressed to your temple, and he’s like, “Oh, hey! Now you’ve also got to shop, and bake, and cook, and decorate, and don’t forget about those holiday parties, and those friends you never see, and the family you don’t like, and nope, you won’t get any more hours in your day JUST MAKE IT WORK or I’ll kill that baby reindeer over there and blame it on you.”

It’s a tectonic stress test. Your ground shakes. Your schedule shudders and buckles.

Not to mention all the other issues that come into play.

Got food issues? Ha ha ha, sucker. Enjoy not being able to eat 78% of the things on every table that you encounter. “ENJOY YOUR GLUTEN-FREE, SUGAR-FREE, NUT-FREE PROCESSED KALE SLURRY, YOU MUTANT,” your relatives cry as they eat cheesecake stuffed with a smaller cheesecake stuffed with a core of pure molten gluten. (“Mölten Glüten” is the name of my Scandinavian foodie metal band, by the way.)

Got weight issues? Oh, man, yeah, sorry. Here, just eat this tub of SUGARFAT ELF BUTTER, you’ll surely feel better, at least until you look in the mirror and all the body issues you’ve ever had will haunt you like the ghosts that terrorized Ebeneezer Scrooge — and it’s a problem that replicates itself, too, because you feel shitty about the way you look so you eat food that makes you look worse and then you go to see friends or family where inevitably someone says something totally inappropriately horrible (“OH YOU’RE LOOKING NICE AND CHUNKY THIS YEAR — NO, NO, I MEAN YOU LOOK HEALTHY, LIKE A GIRTHY, WELL-FED BEEFALO”), and then you just wanna go and bury your entire face in pie for the remainder of your days.

Got money issues? You poor fucker. We’re bombarded with deals like it’s war-time and sale flyers are propaganda papers dropped on our bombed-out mental cities with the singular goal of destroying our very will so that we buy more silly shit, and yet people can’t afford said silly shit and so like with the weight issue it’s a replicating cycle, isn’t it? Your credit card starts burning a hole in your pants like the One Ring in a hobbit’s pocket. Your credit card is a shovel and you dig yourself into a deeper hole and you can’t get yourself out of the hole because ha ha ha debt is fine, don’t worry about it, surely Santa will pay it off OH WAIT SANTA ISN’T FUCKING REAL.

Got grief? Of course you do. Everyone does. (Especially Charlie Brown!) We have relationships that have failed us. We have friendships that crumbled like a weeks-old scone. We’ve lost loved ones — hell, my father died in 2007 just days before Christmas. That gives the holidays an added, fucked-up dimension — like we’re all looking through a wintry window, except the window isn’t frosted over with snow and ice, but rather, slicked over with a faint sheen of crystallized grief. No time of the year is this grief more keenly felt — it distorts everything, just slightly.

What’s my point?

I guess it’s this: cut folks a little slack. You don’t know what they’re going through. We all have this secret, sub rosa frequency of stress and sadness and it’s a song you hear more strongly during the holidays — just be aware of that. The holidays can be a hard row to hoe for those of us in the best of circumstances, so: ease off the throttle a bit and as they say in that song: let it go. (Sidenote: I think I am the last person in North America to not have seen Frozen. I’m like the Omega Man, but of wintry Disney musical cartoons.)

This also means you have to cut yourself a little slack, too. Do your best and just let the holidays wash over you. It’s very easy to say — “Don’t fret!” — but seriously? Give yourself a break. Things aren’t going to be perfect. That house won’t be clean as you want it. Your work might take a hit. You don’t have to bake a thousand cookies and those cookies you do bake don’t have to be perfect.

And I recognize this is way easier said than done, but it’s worth a look at the holidays. Find the things you love about the holidays and also look at those things that stress you right the fuck out, and then try to cut out the stressful stuff while cleaving to the awesome stuff. Even cutting out a few stressors can make a huge, huge difference.

Just be nice. Be nice to yourself and to everyone else. It’s a happy time of year, but it can be a hellish one, too. Let’s all get through it together. Now: join with me as we go on the annual NOG-SODDEN ELF HUNT. Because this elf is a right bastard. Now mount up and let’s roll.

64 responses to “The Holiday Hellidays Stress Test Shit Show: Starring You!”

  1. Pro tip: WordPress comes equipped with auto save. Also, when you sign in, click the “remember me” button. When you can’t find your work, hit the back button on your browser and if the gods are good to you, a previous version will be there. This has saved me more times than I can remember.

  2. We merry few who have not seen Frozen. We band of brothers. Stay strong. It was a year before I inadvertently learned what twerking was, Frozen should be easy. Though I have a daughter. Hmmm.

  3. I love this post. People always talk about “Christmas Spirit,” and what you’ve written is maybe its truest incarnation: Hey everyone, take care of yourselves and empathize because on some level we’re all poor, and sad, and fat, and hungry for things we can’t have or will never get. Also, we’re all celebrating a holiday that reminds us of a time in our lives when we believed in a character who knew everything about us, including our deepest desires, and who would zip out of the sky and make us happy just because we deserved it. But, ahahahaha, none of us ever believed that, right? Thanks for writing this. Hang in there, man.

  4. Even more fun when you have a book coming out in January and your wife would like you to be putting the lights on the tree but you’re ass deep in copy edits and your phone keeps pinging with notes from your editor and cover artist at that Christmas party with friends where you have solemnly sworn to not talk about work. Gah!

  5. I never found the holidays to be challenging. Only awesome! And I never had a hard time cutting others some slack. I’m addicted to it! But this year…..

    All but one of my four sons have moved out, my sister and her girls live far away, my mom and brother too, and I can’t for the life of me figure out how to get us all together. So there’s a small but intense sadness cloud consistently circling the borders of my feelings, and I’m always aware of its threat to grow into a super storm. A complete meltdown might be in my forecast.

    Perhaps I’ll stuff organic coconut sugar sweetened crust free pumpkin pie in my face, cover the mirrors, hide from the creditors, and snuggle my youngest son while we cry and watch Frozen. Which I have seen a gazillion times because it’s a sister movie. And I love my sister.

    It suggests “true love” can be family. And I love my family.

    Dude! Why’d you have to bring up Frozen?!

    Happy Christmas!!

    • My own father died on Christmas Day 1980. Yeah-h-h-h, it puts a crimp in Christmas for a few years or decades.

  6. Meanwhile over in Scroogeville (population me), I’ve never been a fan of the season. Too many years working retail, I suppose, and seeing the absolute bottom-of-the-barrel WORST of people during this supposedly happy season day in and day out will make you a bit twitchy. I couldn’t wait for my daughter to grow into an age where we could stop all the nonsense and treat it as just another holiday to relax and ignore the folks we want to ignore. We buy stuff for each other throughout the year, so don’t wait until a specific holiday to do so (we really don’t do that on birthdays either. We’re just not a holiday family…except Halloween). We’re not religious so don’t have that to tie us to the holiday. For me it’s just a time to crank up the nice to the cashier and the waitress, or any other poor schmuck who braces for the worst when they approach you on that “most wonderful time of the year.”

  7. “(I’ll preface this by saying: I wrote this post once, WordPress logged me out right at the end, then wouldn’t save and erased the whole bloody thing. Ha ha ha ha, ha ha ha, please excuse my loud and egregious sobbing. Now I will rewrite the entire post from memory, and given that I have a memory like mouse-eaten underwear, it will probably look nothing like I originally intended.)” <——– That right there is why you NEVER write an original post in the website. You type it up in a word document then copy and paste it over when you're done. I had this problem with my school's servers as well for posting "blog post" assignments. I learned quickly.

    • Well, honestly, I tend to write them right in the browser 100% of the time, and this has never happened in the many years of my site, and in fact, I probably have more issues with WORD than I do with WORDPRESS. Plus, copying Word formatting over to WordPress always requires an extra step of rejiggering the formatting here, so.

      • Same. I’ve had more problems with Word than WordPress. It should not have happened to you and it sucks. It just all adds to the spirit of the Holidays and an ironic twist to your lovely post about stress.

        Tina Gower

  8. I also have yet to see Frozen, though I do own the Blu-Ray.

    The Holidays are rough. My first wife died in November, my father died a year later ON Thanksgiving, and there’s just not enough time for everything. I get poo-pooed every time I suggest maybe this year, we go light on the decorations, or we decline to attend so-and-so’s Christmas thingie in favor of maybe reducing our stress and workload a bit.

  9. Thank you sir that made my day. I work in retail as anyone else out there that works on retail it can be enormously hellish. So thanks for the words of wisdom and have your self s merry little Christmas

  10. Ive seen Frozen. It made me want to stab myself with an ice pick. Trust me. Youre not missing anything.

    I think the best solution this time of year is to remember to stop & breathe. You dont have to do All The Things or buy All The Stuff or be All The Merry Cheer. We celebrate Hannukah & Christmas in my house, and theres an autistic teenager involved. So while the tree goes up & the mennorah gets lit & the carols wail thru the house, we’ve learned to stay chill like the weather outside. And we let holiday stuff fall by the wayside in order to maintain serenity. Its so much nicer.

  11. THANK YOU for this post. It’s like you crawled into my head (you poor thing) and read my thoughts. My father passed in 1995 two days before Christmas, and this year I lost my only brother two days before Thanksgiving. I freakin’ HATE the holidays. I’ve been unemployed for the last 6 months and I have three teenage sons who have already been told that there won’t be any gifts under the tree this year. Their gift is the roof over their heads for as long as I can keep it there.
    It is hard during the holidays when it seems as if everyone around you is partying, having fun, spending money, etc. It’s tough not to think you’re the only one who’s suffering. But you’re right–there are lots of people who struggle to just get through the holiday season. My solution is to drink. A lot. Everyone has their coping tools. Writing helps too.
    And reading. So thank you, thank you, for expressing many of the things I am feeling these days.
    Merry f’n Christmas. : )

  12. A-yup. I’m refusing to be rushed and simplifying as much as possible. Most worried about my mom, first Christmas without Dad. We’re all doing the best we can. Just try to enjoy.

  13. The neighbors only know I laughed…they do not know that Mölten Glüten about killed me! \m/

    (And it seems like there are enough people to form a small club of those who have not seen Frozen. I have not even heard a song from Frozen, but I know they exist — I know the names…)

  14. The truest of Christmas Spirit: Cut folks a little slack.

    Nail on the head, Chuck. As Dickens said (through the mouth of Nephew Fred, a sadly-underplayed part of A Christmas Carol):

    “There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say,” returned the nephew: “Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round — apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that — as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”

  15. Yeah, if people would just be nice, I feel like everything else would sort itself out. But I’ve found that just completing mundane day-to-day tasks becomes a chore and a liability post-Thanksgiving. People start driving like maniacs, every place you go is crowded, people seem edgy and anxious and have become short on manners and common courtesy. It’s disheartening. Why does it seem like it’s harder for people to be nice than it is for them to be naughty during the holidays?

  16. This morning a stranger in a parking lot screamed at me, “Move, you ignorant bitch!” (SERIOUSLY!) for absolutely no reason other than I was sitting in my car (waiting for my husband) and he thought I should move out of the spot he wanted. At my next stop, a man walked by with a little dog dressed in a Santa suit and when I wished the man a Merry Christmas in passing, the dog tried to bite me. Definitely a stressful time of year for man AND beast.

  17. Yep, someone always dies. We have that in my family, too. Mwah hahaargh! Great post.

    Also you missed out the flu, the gift that keeps on giving although I flatter myself that I managed to have it last week this year. Usually someone gives it to me over the Christmas break though. I enjoyed spending the turn of the century in bed with a raving temperature thanks to a kind donation of flu bugs from my parents that year.

    This year I’ve spanked the plastic until it’s red raw and now I’ve run out of cash so I’ve decided there’s no point worrying.

    Nothing is ready and we are set to drive for hours over roads clogged up with other people who, like us, are stupid or spineless to put their foot down no to their relatives and just stay home for once in 20 years. I suppose someone somewhere must enjoy Christmas but only the kind of weird people who like organising things because their organisational skills are tip top. For me it’s just a string of buttock clenchingly embarrassing “oh shit I forgot”s followed by a time on tenterhooks wondering which piece of furniture/carpet/other prized item at whichever relly’s house we’re at McMini or I will ruin with a spillage, ungoverned gambolling or general over boistrousness.

    The only thing that makes it bearable is 1. McOther loathes it almost as much as I do so we’re in it together. 2. McMini, who is six and makes the whole thing worthwhile. 3. Knowing that nearly every poor bugger I bump into on the street feels exactly the same way I do.

    So yeh. Fist bump to all the scrooges out there! You can do it peps! Just grit your teeth, plaster on your rictus smile, put your head down and before you know it it’ll be January 3rd, you’ll be home and… breathe… relax.


    M (Scrooge) T M

    • All right gang, it seems that we are all in this together, a point that Chuck has just brilliantly made for us. Thank you Chuck.

      My own personal woes include a dying mother and a step-father who is greeting this fact by acting out and going crazy. And I dont mean the good kind of crazy either, I mean the locked ward kind. In recent years Ive had control 9f the holidays and have managed to put a stop to the annual passive aggressive and dysfunctional fest but it was still a stressful time.

      We’ve just been told that mom might need another heart surgery, which will most likely kill her. Routine knee surgery almost killed her this spring. While discussing this earlier today, mom said:

      “Well, if the doctor says I need it…..”

      “Mom! The reason you dont remember the months between April and September is because you almost died!”

      On the good news front, I married my high school sweetheart this summer after a 20 year hiatus and a whirlwind courtship and contrary to expectations for marrying in a fever, I have a comrade against the world and that makes everything bearable and worthwhile.

      So, with all the craziness and running around, I’m going to remember all of you fine people, all facing similar things and know that we’re not alone.

  18. I’m beginning to think you have a hidden camera in my house because, seriously, you nailed every one of my OMG-It’sEffingChristmasAGAIN extreme hyperventilation-inducing moments here. And I just spent the afternoon baking batch after batch of sausage balls for the various parties I’m committed to that I CAN NO LONGER EAT BECAUSE OF THE GLUTEN THING, and have you ever *tasted* a gluten-free sausage ball? The dog won’t even eat them. So yeah, deep breath on my end here. I spend a lot of time singing Let it Go, actually. You should see it–not to break your streak of not watching Wintry Disney movies but because it really is that good. I know, my knee-jerk reaction to being told I should watch or read something because it is So Good is, “Oh yeah? Who died and made you the arbitrator of social taste here in this country?” and to dig in my heels and refuse to ever watch it, not even if a former Vice President tacks my eyeballs open and forces me to do it–but then I would have missed out on an awesome movie. 😉

  19. Go and see Frozen right now! See if you can find a sing-along version filled with kids on their Christmas holidays.
    Let it go… let it go… can’t hold it back anymore…………… (out of tune out of time chipmunk voices)

    Actually it’s a very good movie.

  20. Okay. Ready? I’m a singer by profession. I don’t do Christmas in my house. Why? I sing Christmas all over the place to the point of complete overloaded saturated wild-eyed soaked-out under-slept exhaustion. Do NOT BRING A TREE anywhere near my door. Got that? Good.

  21. Aaaaarrrgghh, Chuck, you just described my life right now, how did you even do that it’s like you’re psychic or something and now finally I know why I’ve been feeling so crap for the last few weeks…

    *cries into a bucket for a while*

    That’s better. I needed that, I think. Thank you Chuck, for dusting a little Crimbo Persepective over my life. I’ve been wanting to punch myself in my own face sooo hard for quite a while now for falling behind on my (self-imposed) schedule for my current w-i-p… and all the while forgetting that I’m doing a metric tonne of crazy-ass things for the festive season at the same time. Many more now my kid’s eight (oh yes, schools do their level best to make sure all those parents aren’t sitting around on their lazy asses doing nothing in the run-up to the Christmas holidays!) This will also be the second Christmas without my father-in-law, who absolutely loved this time of year, so yeah – definitely gonna be a grief frosting on it.

    And I haven’t seen ‘Frozen’ either. My laddie’s more of a How to Train Your Dragon dude. 😉

  22. *saddles up, checks ammo*
    Let’s go get us some Elf.

    (and: yes. Just yes to all you said. I refused to go to the annual passive aggressives convention – aka MIL’s Xmas do – and it has made ALL THE DIFFERENCE to how I feel this Crimbo. Awesome!)

  23. You made me laugh and this time of year you need all the laughs you can get. Thank you, I will now breath deeply and try to be nice not only to the gazillions of shoppers who take my parking space or cut in front of me. Does not matter, oh yeah time to say…Let it go.

  24. It’s funny in my family we love Christmas to this insane degree (my mom’s fault). Yet any moments of stress. I suspect because I generally get along with my family. And I’m good at rolling with it.

    Even with being an obsessive perfectionist I have a lot of fun during the holidays.

  25. Loved this post. I teach at a college, so for me, there is actually more work to do (grading, final writing, dealing with crying students who only just now realized they haven’t gotten above 50% on anything all semester and want to know why I can’t devise a special, last-minute extra credit project that will allow them to show how they really have mastered the class material after all–twitch, twitch). And oh yeah, that holiday shopping thing and all that.

    Needless to say, the house is a complete mess. We have no kids (just a passel of animals), but now I really understand why my mom used to sing certain lines from “Santa Clause is Coming to Town,” while fixing us with the archetypal “Gimlet Eye” in the weeks leading up to the festivities.

    Hope your holidays are as merry and bright as possible, though 🙂

    • My spouse also reaches at a university. He spends a huge hunk of every Xmas vacation grading, because it is apparently not humanly possible to keep up during the term. This year they also made him Chair. I haven’t seen him for weeks.

  26. Miss my dad, miss my brother, miss my grandparents, love seeing my mother and other three siblings, but the missing part never goes away. I was watching one of those sappy happy commercials the other day, and wondering what goes through the mind of a child who is hungry and cold and abused by the people who should be taking care of him when he sees that commercial. I think Christmas must seem like a huge horrible lie to those children. So yes, let me find the baseball bat, and let’s go elf hunting.

  27. I had a clever comment all lined up, but I erased it. Felt too snarky. All I want to really say is, “Thank you, Chuck.” BTW, you aren’t the only person to never see “Frozen.” I’m right there with you.

  28. I like Christmas. We don’t sweat the gifts, I like the family, even the in-laws, and we do tons of good food. I have never been a perfectionist about anything but grammar, so it’s easier for me. And school lets out, and since my kids are no longer a pain in the arse, I can simply appreciate getting to sleep in.

    I get my flu shot after a couple of glorious rounds with the viruses.

  29. Note to self–and others. Do NOT get your cholesterol tested right before the holidays. Or maybe that’s the best time. But make sure you doc issues anti-depressants before giving you the news.

  30. My parent’s lost their house in a fire over the summer. It’s where we usually stay for holiday festivities and this year we’re displaced. In a perfect world we’d be staying with my parents in a stress free environment where we know the routine. Not the case this year. This post really hit it for me today. Thank you for taking the time to completely re-write it.

    Tina Gower

  31. Great post Chuck… and you’re right, Christmas can be a downright crappy time for some of us. We’re still disjointed in my family after 2 years from losing my Uncle Allan. We used to go to his house for Christmas Day because it was perfect – a huge back deck, BBQ, pool & spa and a nice cool place to slip into the food coma after lunch… ahh. yeah…. but he passed on from Prostate Cancer in April 2012 and we all felt – and still feel lost – without him around.

    He was/is a favourite Uncle.

    Then, later that year, I lost my sweet little bird on 8th, December… damned I hated Christmas last year because I pulled out the tree and found all her bum-fluff feathers all over it! All I could do was sit on the floor and cry.

    This year is a little easier… I miss my bird still, and we’re going to my brother’s house for Christmas Eve. Life is getting better. 🙂

  32. Dear God – I needed to hear/read this!!!!!!!!! Thank you for sharing, and I will endeavor to take this great advise and pass it on!!!!!!!!

  33. Just as an affirmation to your, obviously, iron-clad will organs, I wanted to let you know one thing. You are not the only man (or woman? I’ll get to that in a moment) in the Great Land of America, or Pennsyltucky, or Kensylvania, or wherever the hell we are these days, to have not seen Frozen. Me and the wife have utterly refused to watch it after seeing the scathing eyes of posters and memorabilia everywhere, taunting us, and listening to our nieces, nephews, and unfortunately tainted children of our own sing Let It Go more times then I care to ever hear the same words repeated in the same order EVER. We made a pact in a sweltering bedroom, made that way to hopefully ward off the Evil Snowman (Snowwoman?) Spirits as we did so, to never even consider watching any incantation of said entertainment until we haven’t heard anything about or from it, or seen anything about it, for at least two weeks. And just when we thought we were safe… WINTER HIT AND WE GOT BOMBARDED WITH MORE ADVERTISEMENTS BECAUSE HEY, WE RELEASED THIS MOVIE BEFORE YOU EVER SAW REAL SNOWFLAKES AND NOW THEY ARE HERE AND IN THE MOVIE. SEE THAT WEIRD LITTLE BABY FROSTY? SO CUTE! SO BAM, LET’S GET THIS SHIT TRENDING AGAIN WITH BELLYWASHER WITH BLONDE PRINCESSES AND SNOWMEN ON THEIR TOPS TO GLARE YOU DOWN AND MAKE YOU FEEL LIKE A FOURTH-RATE GUTLESS MEMBER OF SOCIETY FOR NOT EVEN KNOWING WHO THESE NEW ICONS ARE. I even stopped watching Once Upon A Time when I found out they were throwing Frozen into the mix, although I’ll be secretly watching that season once it comes out on Netflix, after which I’ll cry myself to sleep with a bottle of FireWater for having let the images reach my retinas. But I just wanted you to know, STAY STRONG.

  34. My extended family decided to skip most of the holiday stuff this year. We were dithering – how can you just skip Thanksgiving/Christmas, that’s like letting the terrorists win. Then my 76-year-old mother fell and broke her arm. Fuck it. There’ll be another holiday season next year and, gods willing, we’ll all be here to enjoy it. I made a nice dinner of lasagna and homemade focaccia for Thanksgiving at my parents’ house and that was it – I didn’t even vacuum. For Christmas, I’m making baked chicken and rice, and my sisters are bringing pies. No tree, no decorations, no gifts except for one sister’s two kids (we didn’t do a lot of procreating in my family). And no fucking vacuuming.

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