life: examined is an invitation to get curious, a compendium of ideas, thoughts, and questions about living a creative, intentional life. Thank you for your support.
Here we are once again, deep in holiday season.
Whether Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Christmas, most everyone comes from some tradition—secular or religious.
We celebrated Christmas as any North American family would do.
We weren't religious, except for that brief stint at a Pentecostal church when I was little, the one where its worshippers spoke in tongues and forbade dancing.
I don't remember how old I was then, maybe six? But I was old enough to be terrified by the prospect of eating flesh and drinking blood—I didn't care if it was from Jesus!
Standing next to me in the pew, and pulling me out of my silent hysteria, was my mom who told me, in reverent whispered tones, that the blood and body of Christ were just grape juice and a cracker.
I partook, not knowing what the hell I was doing, but I do know it was the worst snack my young self had thus far eaten.
And really, step back and consider why showing deference through mock cannibalism of one's deity is a good thing? Seems pretty barbaric to me. Anyway, I digress (and do not mean to offend).
Early Holiday Celebrations
My family were secular Christmas celebrators of the regular kind.
Although not a wealthy household, we had joyful mornings with me and my brother opening the gifts that we already knew about, owing to our CIA-level snooping skills (sorry, mom). As I got older, I extended my (non-) belief in Santa to keep it fun for my younger brother—for all of us.
We were young, making a family tradition and enjoying being together despite some difficult times.
I remember the Christmases of my youth with fondness.
And thanks, mom, for letting me circle all the things I wanted in the giant Sears Christmas Wish Book. That was just as fun as getting the gifts—the imagined life the catalogue portrayed and the anticipation of what I might receive.
I don’t remember the FLIRT, because I probably wasn’t a “tuned-in girl” (or even born yet) but I definitely wanted the log cabin kit!
As an adult, I went through many changes and views regarding the holidays.
I went from going along to appease others, to vehemently opposed, to somewhere in the middle. Now I've reached a place of neutrality. Despite growing up in a culture that prioritizes material wealth over, well, just about everything else, I find the Christmas shopping frenzy to be repulsive.
In Portugal, the holidays hold a refreshing new charm for me.
The Christmas markets are rustic, with vendors selling handmade goods from equally handmade-looking booths.
Products like tea blends, cakes and other holiday treats, textiles, dried herbs, and soaps. Smoke from roasting chestnuts infuses the air. Lights are strung throughout the limbs of the trees, which are mostly bare of leaves, and decorations are scattered about. Some are familiar, some of the holiday baubles are not.
Yes, Black Friday and Black Week (a new one to me) have found their way across the Atlantic and settled here.
It's inevitable, I suppose, but still, no news reports of customers being trampled to death as they enter the local Leroy Merlin en masse or accounts of fisticuffs over the deeply-discounted Robôs de Cozinha (kitchen robots aka food processors).
I went shopping a few weeks ago with my neighbors at the big grocery store (Auchan) in the mall; it was quiet. Christmas decor was on display, but the throngs of humans were not.
We arrived at 8 pm, the mall was open until 10 pm, and there were shoppers, but nothing I'd define as a maddening crowd. So from an economic standpoint, this is probably not cheery news, but it is from the potential stress perspective.
Do we really need to gift more future landfill to friends and family out of obligation or habit?
Although there are many downsides to not being fluent in Portuguese (I understand more than I can speak), there's an upside.
Except for a few words and phrases, I can tune out all the commercials they play in the mall or elsewhere. It becomes white noise for me with the occasional: OH, the announcer just said on sale now in Portuguese!
It's a marker of how far I've come with comprehension, but my understanding of fast-spoken Portuguese is limited. When in situations like the mall, I'm grateful for this disadvantage.
I was surprised at how annoyed I was at hearing English in California.
I couldn't retreat into my auditory bubble because I understood every couple's argument, cell phone conversation, and sports chatter. It was exhausting! I wanted to shout: Please, speak Portuguese!
Who knew that low comprehension of a language could be a good thing?
This year, Milo and I will be chilling out at home.
I thought about going to a pet-friendly hotel in Lisbon to celebrate in the big city. I found some decent spots at reasonable prices, but what would I do once there? So, I scrapped that idea, and I'm staying home.
This is not much different from other days. I'll work on my collages and poetry and listen to audiobooks—I have a few I’d like to finish before the end of the month.
I don't feel sad or unhappy about this because the holidays are not something I value.
I respect others who do value this time of year and associated activities, yet I find it interesting to witness the suffering people endure because of what they think they're supposed to do.
This doesn't mean I don't miss my family and friends; I do—but I miss them, holidays or not. I just choose not to heap on extra importance to days that don't hold meaning for me because society says they should. Why create more suffering?
Holiday gatherings that feature drunk people trading passive-aggressive barbs is not my idea of a good time. I know all gatherings are not that way, but I'm not taking any chances!
Additionally, I don't eat animals or their by-products, so the traditional meals don't appeal. I don't want stuff, especially if stress to procure the stuff is involved. I do love getting little gifts—but not ones that are fraught with obligation. I like the random: hey, it's May 8th, and I saw this and thought of you kind of gifts. Those are the best kind!
You Don’t Need to Perform
Most importantly, you don't need to perform chirpy holiday faux-cheer if that's not how you feel.
It's okay not to love the holidays—or to be neutral about them. It doesn’t make you a mean or awful person if it’s how you feel. Don’t be bullied into participating if it’s unhealthy for you.
Don't let tradition, society, and other people's values and projections push you into being disingenuous. It's not good for you, and it's not good for others.
In fact, I’d argue that tradition has often harmed more than it’s helped people, animals, and the planet—but that’s a different edition of life: examined for another time.
Maybe this will be the year we all get honest about how we want to spend our time and with whom?
The pandemic has shown us that much of our busyness and hair-on-fire back-and-forth-ness is unimportant or meaningless. People are moving on from their soul-sucking jobs to create new opportunities, learn new skills, or try on something completely different like working for themselves.
Perhaps we can love our people as they are, and they can love us as we are—and we can agree that some activities, even the heavyweight ones like holiday gatherings, are not one-size-fits-all.
Of course, I'm mostly speaking to my fellow introverts, but even extroverts can have crappy family dynamics and distaste for adhering to societal conventions.
Over to You
Which camp are you in? Do you love the holidays, hate the holidays, or don't care either way? And if you are brave enough to assert your needs, do you opt-out of stress-inducing events (of any kind) if that's your preference?
—> This is the last issue of life: examined for 2021. I hope you’ve enjoyed it and will stick with me in 2022. Happy holidays, boas festas, and best wishes for a bright new year. ~ shanna
Favorite Portuguese to English Auto-Translation of the Week:
A flea market announcement:
It is with the trembling hand and the voice (which you don't hear) embarked, that we know that the famous ANITA, goes Saturday May 8th, to our Fair and why, because our FAIR IS THE MOST FAMOUS, well, of I hope she doesn't blow all over herself, because it's going to be mandatory to walk and have a mask, and you're going to stay at home carping the misfortunes of tv? Come along, bring the dog, the cat, the bird, the aunt, the mother-in-law, the children, yours and the others.
—> Don’t forget your mask just in case ANITA shows up!
Did you watch it? I‘m not-so-bossy, but I can be if you'd like :)
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Lisa, Dana, Rich, Jayne, Don, @soundproofist, Kate, Monique, and a few anonymous humans for supporting life: examined through Buy Me a Coffee.
—> Not expected, always appreciated!
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Until next time—be well, stay curious, and thanks for reading life: examined