By Emily Erickson
This holiday season, although resembling “normal,” is likely to feel different for a lot of us. The same old songs, belted by Mariah Carey or crooned by Michael Buble, might not capture the nuance of what we’re going through and where we’ve been this past year and a half. So, in preparation for the complexity of my emotions, I’ve added a few songs to the holiday lineup that more accurately capture this moment in time.
“I Will” by Brandi Carlile features a verse about a once loving relationship, with the person about whom she is singing holding an expectation of always being listened to or learned from. But this person with so much to say never seems to be open or receptive to learning from her — to reciprocate all that he’s expecting from her. She sings about the harm of self-ascribed morality being used as a shield and the distance created by unshared points of view.
By now, we all have all experienced being talked at, having another person’s point of view regurgitated onto us with very little care or concern about how it’s being received. Likely, we wait for it to pass, make awkward attempts at signaling neutrality and extricate ourselves from the situation. But in loving relationships, especially within families or between friends, it’s not so easy. Regurgitation can be veiled as salvation, with people who care about us trying to teach us, reform us or bring us into their truth.
Sharing space, meals and conversations with loved ones this holiday season might open us up to more of these “conversations,” either being compelled to share or on the receiving end of “lessons” about the state of the world and our responsibilities within it. But having an expectation of being listened to, without being prepared to listen, isn’t loving or productive. Being rigid in our lines of morality, within our points of view, can only create binary divides, widening the chasm between us and the people on the other side.
In “Tubthumping” by Chumbawamba the lead singer, Dunstan Bruce, sings about all the different kinds of alcohol he will be consuming over the course of an evening (whiskey, vodka, lager and cider). Despite all the signs he’s taken his consumption too far, falling down and having to peel himself back up off the ground, repeatedly, he continues on for the sake of celebration.
Being a bit out of practice in the dance that is socially gathering this year — with small talk topics puttering to an untimely end or abrasive comments not landing as easily as they once did — we may be more prone to bad coping mechanisms and overconsumption in the name of “spirit” this holiday season. Discomfort at a work party because we’ve been Zooming from home for the past year might have us returning to the bar for another beer. An eye-roll from a not-so-discrete aunt about our marital status might mean reaching for that bowl of mashed potatoes, again.
In Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide,” Stevie Nicks sings about the fear that’s inherent in change and her experience of feeling time passing and growing older. She talks about acceptance and the process of moving through her journey, despite not knowing how it will all turn out.
We’ve been living with so much uncertainty and upheaval lately, and yet, time has continued to pass. This holiday season, we’re trying to come out the other side of the turmoil, reassembling the fragments of life as we knew it into our new version of normal. We’re creating new traditions and reviving old ones. We’re seeing people for the first time in a long time, and accepting all the life they lived that we didn’t get to be a part of. We’re continuing on, despite not quite knowing what it’s all supposed to look like or where it all will go.
In “Fire and Rain” James Taylor sings about all of the good fortune he’s had in his life and all the things for which he’s grateful. But equalling his gratitude is the grief he feels for the loss of a person he loves.
This duality of gratitude and grief is present for a lot of us during the holidays, with the absence of loved ones being felt extra poignantly this time of year. This past season has been heavy, and a lot of people are having to come to terms with newfound grief. This year, like James Taylor, we can allow ourselves the space to revel in celebration; to count our blessings, while also whole-heartedly missing the people who are no longer there to count them with us.
Whether it’s songs about chestnuts roasting on an open fire, or about navigating the complexity of your own existence, I hope you find comfort in whatever is festive to you this holiday season.
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