I’m holding back tears as I watch a TV documentary. I’ll tell you the subject matter in a moment.
Even my closest friends would be surprised to learn how emotional I really am. In most public settings, including work and family gatherings, I have a fairly steady, even temperament. I show emotion but not in an extreme way. My laugh isn’t hearty and I rarely cry in public.
But I experience holiday depression. From Thanksgiving Day through New Year’s Day, that bundle of pent up emotion that a surprisingly large number of people deal with lives just below the surface of my exterior personality. It doesn’t take much to open the window and let it out.
I’m revealing this part of me in this somewhat public setting just in case you have similar feelings during the holiday season and need a little validation to prove you’re not alone or crazy.
I got through Thanksgiving week in a great mood this year. My sister and some of my cousins emailed greetings and a few old photographs to each other. These are the cousins who I spent nearly every Thanksgiving of my youth with. The photos and messages felt good. No tears, many smiles.
But this afternoon is another story. It is three days after Thanksgiving, cloudy, rainy and cold, much colder than it ever was in late November in my southern youth. I’m eating the last of the holiday leftovers, thinking about how my original plan to spend Thanksgiving with my sister in New Orleans didn’t work out, and watching the beginning of a documentary on television. It is a whimsical but fact-based look at the history of donuts.
Yes, donuts are making me cry.
The lead example this documentary uses to explain the world’s fascination with fried dough is the beignet, the only food item served at Café du Monde in New Orleans. I have probably been to that that famous outdoor café more than a hundred times in my life and often during significant, emotional moments. My earliest memory of eating beignets there was after a grandmother’s funeral. Dad took us there after at least three funerals during my youth. I spilled the powdered sugar beignet topping on a tuxedo after at least two proms in high school. In the years since leaving New Orleans, I have shared their café au lait and beignets with at least two girlfriends and a wife. I’ve dropped in solo. The strong coffee and calorie-laden beignets are major part of my life and viewing those sights and sounds have opened the emotion window.
This kind of reaction is a normal component of holiday depression. As adults we often try to recreate family rituals from our youth and the disparity between that attempt and current reality often leads to sadness rather than joy. There is nothing wrong with it and it is perfectly normal. Knowing that doesn’t necessarily make it easier to cope with, however, but it is a good first step. Making your own rituals and traditions is another positive step toward reducing the sadness. Letting it just happen rather than kicking yourself in the butt is another good technique.
I used to feel sad for the whole six or seven weeks of the fall/winter holidays. My favorite two words were “bah humbug.” Scrooge had some serious holiday depression going on. Changing his current behavior and attitude after connecting with his happier childhood helped him feel better. A story like that could help me and you. A tasty beignet from Café du Monde would help too.
Fortunately my holiday depression doesn’t last long any more. This one afternoon incident might be it for this year.
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