The lanes in the city are all decked out for the holidays, twinkle lights zigzagging between the open patch of sky between buildings and sparkling away against the winter sky. The Champs-Elysees lights up the night, the mythical tree-lined boulevard illuminated with festive decor. Window displays are all decked out for the season, row after row, enticing people of all ages with just about every item you could possibly dream of owning. During the holiday season, the City of Light amps up its elegance and taste for fine things to a whole other level. Families stroll around and laugh together as they partake in their holiday traditions.
However, Christmastime also has a way of heightening feelings of loss and loneliness. Behind the dancing snowmen in the windows and cheerful faces are those who are hurting, those who have no one to spend the holidays with. Simply taking the metro or walking down the street to the plea of outstretched hands and dirty mattresses are evidence enough, not to mention the gloomy outlook of many regarding the state of world affairs. For some families, Christmas is a season of laughter and fun. For others, it’s only a day and the buildup is unimportant. I’ve had a taste of both in my life. The expectation that takes over at Christmas – what gifts we’ll receive, who we will spend the day with, who will be thinking of us – can weigh us down.
As I spend my first Christmas season living on my own, I have struggled to find a balance between acknowledging these darker feelings and finding the energy to create my own Christmas cheer. It has been a challenge to come home to an empty apartment with no Christmas tree or family to share in our traditions, and to not be swept into the envy and resentment that the hyper-consumerism of the season can breed. It has been frustrating to feel so disconnected from the ones I love back at home during a time generally centered around family. In some cases, I have felt like I am “out of sight, out of mind,” making it hard to push aside these feelings and extend my own holiday greetings. My budget is tighter than it’s ever been and I’d be lying if I said that hasn’t been a point of stress on some days. And once again, I find myself worrying that I am not cheerful enough, that I am lacking in Christmas spirit that seems to come to others so easily. Though I vow it will be different every year, that this will be the year I get a leg up on Christmas, this season always has a way of making me feel emotional and inadequate.
But spending the holiday season on my own has also been an opportunity to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas.We know it’s not about the presents but it is so easy for our vision to become blurred. When you can’t have all the things you want, what is it that still matters most? Through the loneliness and nostalgia that left me feeling empty, it has been finding ways to create my own joy and to be thankful for another Christmas season. It was exchanging cookies with friends who understand that that was all we could afford to give one another this year. It was curling up with a good book and some hot chocolate after a long day of trying to explain the importance and use of auxiliary verbs in English to anxty teenagers. It was running around Paris with old friends who came to visit and discovering that going to see the Christmas lights and six-story Christmas tree at the Galeries Lafayette is fun no matter how much money you have. It was filling that lonely space in my apartment with the sounds of Christmas songs and movies while occupying my mind with making holiday cards and enjoying a glass of wine. It baking a cake “with” my cousin on Skype though 6,000 miles apart. It was lighting a candle for my mom on the longest night and allowing myself to miss her. But then it was also taking comfort in the words to my favorite Christmas carol – O Holy Night – for the stars always shine, even on the darkest nights. Though there were still hard days when I really missed home and Christmases past, I made the most of this special season for myself, a young twenty-something year-old living on her own.
Maybe these are the things that should matter the most all year round, every Christmas season, spent alone or surrounded by family.
Happy Holidays to all, from Paris!