Christmas is my Valentine’s

You know how some people hate Valentine’s Day? Yeah. That’s me and Christmas.

A submission to the December 2021 Carnival of Aces.

[Crossposted to Pillowfort. Preview image from Spring Creek, Yellowstone National Park, Public Domain.]

This may not be the majority opinion, but I’m used to there being a fair deal of criticism, objections, and resentment about Valentine’s Day as a holiday. Sometimes the associated traditions are criticized as harmful. People talk about loathing it as a holiday for how it feels forced and inescapable or express an antagonistic relationship with it because they find it difficult and isolating. Whether they find fault with the holiday itself or not, there are a lot of narratives out there about finding Valentine’s Day to be an awkward, lonely, or otherwise painful time of year.

It’s these narratives I have in mind as a reference point when I say that Christmas is my Valentines.

It wasn’t always this way. Frankly, I never expected to become the kind of person who resents Christmas. Other people have their legitimate reasons for taking issue with the holiday and the hullabaloo surrounding it — reasons like cultural imperialism and antisemitism — and while I take issue with those things politically, that’s not what this particular post is about. This post is about how several years ago, I cut contact with almost the entirety of my family, and Christmas has never been the same to me since.

When I say that Christmas is my Valentine’s, what I mean is that the relationship norms and expected practices of this time of year are something that highlights (or arguably, constructs) a particular “absence” in my life. In my country this is a time of Family. One way or another, you’re supposed to be going home to Family or having Family come home to you.

This impinges on me because I have no family to go home to. No parents, no children. As a single twenty-something grad student, I’m used to people expecting me to Go Home to parents, and that’s something I cannot do because that relationship is over. I am as logistically single on Christmas as I am on Valentine’s Day.

If anything, Christmastime is worse, because at least Valentine’s Day is just a day. Christmastime goes on for weeks.

Here is an incomplete list of things that I hate about Christmas, completely setting aside the music:

  • Everybody leaves. My roommate leaves. My local friends leave. Everyone I know around here leaves. Or if they don’t “leave,” they’re otherwise unavailable and busy spending time with their family. For me, that makes it an extremely solitary time of year.
  • Usually even the internet gets quiet because, again, people are supposed to be spending time with family.
  • Public places are closed on Christmas. Can’t even go to the library.
  • This is the time of year when the ex-parents are extra motivated to contact me, still trying to treat me as their child, attempting to circumvent all the filters I’ve put up around my phone and email.
  • During all this, you’re supposed to be “happy” about Christmas.

But you know what the worst thing is?

The Conversation.

The Conversation goes like this: someone, such as a coworker or a professor or one of the students in a course that I TA for, asks in that friendly smalltalk kind of way, “So, [Coyote], are you going back to Texas for winter break?” to which I say, “Actually, no.” They follow up with, “Oh, are you headed someplace else?” and I say, “No, I live here now.” They look confused. They ask, “But…. you’re not going to see your family…?” and I repeat, “No, I live here now.”

Alternatively, if I’m feeling especially bold, I might outright inform or remind people that I don’t have a family anymore, which is a fast and effective way to make things awkward. That’s just not a possibility that your average student or office worker is prepared to anticipate. It feels too heavy for the context, like responding to “How are you?” by dropping an anvil on someone’s foot.

There’s another connection to be made here to Valentine’s Day, too, in that Christmas effectively puts pressure on me to think about dating. Since my social circle all has their own families and partners to go home to, I feel like the only way to avoid this seasonal abandonment would be to go and build a domestic unit of my own. And so we’re back to the problem of making marriage a priority.

You know what I thought about during this past November? One of my coworkers went to spend Thanksgiving with her partner and his family. While that’s fine, I couldn’t help but think about the fact that she’s known him for far less time than she’s known me. Logically, this is nothing to make an issue about, but I admit, it does hit some kind of way. Date someone, even for a few months, and their parents might be willing to take you in as one of their own.

I really wish there were an easier way to get a second chance at parents.

If there’s going to be any single’s advocacy and pushback against amatonormativity, then I hope it will avoid taking a too narrow approach to singleness as just a partnership status. The norms of partnership need to be discussed and examined alongside the norms of The Family because partnership is often the only escape route in sight for people like me — to “start your own family,” to marry into another — in order to have someone to support your survival, someone to make soup for you when you’re sick, and someone go to home to for the holidays.

I’ll tell you what, though. Amid all this, there is one thing I like about this time of year, and that’s how common it is for people to put up lights outdoors. My favorites are the string lights wrapped around the trees. Especially after dark. Those reverse silhouettes, illuminated in rows of glowing pinpricks, encircling a shape that your eyes otherwise might not have been able to make out against the black of night. It makes me feel some kind of way, I guess. There’s just something about a light that shines in the darkness.

One response to “Christmas is my Valentine’s

  • sildarmillion

    I hadn’t thought about Christmas in that way, but now that you’ve drawn attention to it, I can totally see what this time of the year can be like. And not just Christmas – the whole time starting from right before Thanksgiving (in the States) can be like this.

    One of the best Christmases I’ve had was actually not with family, but for whatever reason, I had road tripped with 2 friends through upstate PA and NY. None of us were Christians, and it was an interesting experience to go through small towns where there was a bigger religious influence. We stopped by houses and took pictures with nativity scenes and billboards with messages about Jesus.

    In grad school, my experience has been that there are a lot of international students, some of whom don’t go back home over the break; and sometimes they get together and do roadtrips during this time. Idk if options like that are at all available to you.

    At any rate, it’s of course that time of the year right now. Sending you best wishes.

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