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Fear and Loathing at the Holidays

Ideas for prevention and cure.

If you're one of the many people who are looking forward to the holidays, this post isn't for you. But if you're anticipating them with even a bit of fear and loathing, read on.

Derbobble, Flickr, CC 2.0
Source: Derbobble, Flickr, CC 2.0

As the pumpkins rot and actually look scary, we can now look to the next foisted frivolities: Thanksgiving, New Year's, and Christmas. Yes, it is Christmas, not “The Holidays” or other evasions. Atheists and any of us of other religious backgrounds simply can’t avoid the yuletide hype that stokes a now two-month-long, anal-expulsive use of credit cards.

And Thanksgiving? Even if you're upset with your life, when the family goes around the table, you're likely pressured to spout downright phony professions of gratitude.

Now, we turn to New Year's Eve. Hats and horns, manufactured hoopla, at prices that would make a loan shark blush. Or, we can watch Pretty People do the play-by-play of a ball dropping? I'd rather watch paint dry. Why would thousands of people brave strangling traffic or COVID-sardined trains to stand shoulder-to-shoulder yet again, this time for hours, freezing their buns off, merely to watch a ball drop? If, for some reason, they thought that was the best thing they could do on New Year's Eve, they could have done it at home in far greater comfort?

But what if the fear and loathing of the holidays is mainly fear? You're one of the millions with social anxiety: "I'm too boring, too ugly, too everything bad, not enough good. I'd rather stay home and pet the cat."

Preventing "holidodium"

Holidodium is my neologism for finding the holidays odious. What can be done?

Just say no? That Nancy Reagan entreaty may have been simplistic, but it’s helped some. Perhaps you can apply it to your holidodium. Do you really want to endure the party's loudness and juiced-up revelers? If you want to lie, you can blame it on COVID: “I’m not quite comfortable getting together with a group indoors.”

How are you going to deal with your ursine uncle or acrid aunt? Wave a one-word “Hi” from a distance and turn away? What if s/he stalks you? Should you keep the conversation puerile? Confront after s/he throws the first dagger? If you do, at least the holiday celebration will be memorable, for once.

Afraid you'll have nothing to say? Prepare. What are you doing these days? Thinking about? Looking forward to? Maybe try to rehearse one or two one-minute stories.

Forgo most of the gift-giving.

In place of gifts, how about just a thoughtful e-card? Or an email bearing a not unduly self-aggrandizing missive? Perhaps send the money you would have spent on gifts to your favorite charity.

If someone on your would-be gift list actually needs a present, why wait until Christmas? They probably could use it now. Plus, despite vendors’ protestations—prices are higher in December, especially this year with the sudden supply-chain shortage. Buy the gift for them today. And rather than a doodad or a gift card that may well sit until it's an antique, how about an equivalent amount of cash? Sure, that’s impersonal but your thoughtful card solves that: “Somehow, I figured you’d rather have cash than a reindeer sweater. Caring about you, not just at Christmas, but the other 364.”

At least put boundaries around the risk: Plan to come late and leave early. A friend of mine had a plaque made for his wall: "I came. I saw. I left after an hour."

A handy-dandy cure kit

Despite preventive efforts, a holiday party may still trigger an attack of holidodium.

You’re welcomed with a glass of something that will reduce your restraint. That is followed immediately by the front of the calorie parade: hors d’oeuvres, cheese and crackers, chips and dips. How can you resist that, let alone the main and climactic parts of the parade? Sure, I could implore you to head right for the carrot sticks: “A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips," but that may not work well enough. Might it help to invoke fear of embarrassment? Remember that people watch what other people eat. If you can muster the restraint, make a U-turn from the food area and find someone to talk with.

Alas, your luck, who approaches you but that ursine uncle, already two sheets to the wind and working on number three. He slaps his arm around you and bloviates his ill-founded opinions. Your hands clench, your face reddens. The cure: When he stops for breath, stick your hand out to shake his hand and say, “You’re always interesting. Maybe we’ll talk later,” and escape to the carrot sticks. Don't immediately rush to someone else—he’ll feel insulted.

Now it's after dinner and, having survived, your guard is down. So, in a moment of irrational exuberance, you say something that offends someone. It's safest to be milquetoasty about it: Cut your losses with a quick apology. "Sorry. I misspoke." Think of that as a tourniquet for your big fat mouth.

It's finally time that you can say goodbye. There's usually a first wave of departers who are thinking as you are: "How can I make a graceful escape?" Join that wave. Leave with a "Good party!" plus a specific like, "I loved the decorations!" And with that, you're out of there and can pet your cat.

So now you're prepped for a Happy Thanksgiving, very Merry Christmas, and utterly awesome New Year, or at least a milder case of holidodium.

I read this aloud on YouTube.