The Funk Before Christmas

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The Funk Before Christmas

© 2019, MJ Ostrander

When the calendar says it’s December, I get the sensation that time can compress or expand itself.  The clock moves differently for us all based on our state of mind.  For me, 2019 was a year that moved as if pulled by a team of old, grumpy snail.  Goals were not met.  Expenses went up and income was stagnant.  The weight of the ongoing political crisis in the US is an omnipresent and crushing boulder.  It’s been a spooky, stressful twelve months.  Last Christmas seems so long ago.

December has not always been kind.  Two days loom large in the annals of my life.  The first was the day my infant son was diagnosed with a rare visual disorder.  I was twenty-four.  The doctors couldn’t tell us if he could see.  The second was the day my long-time boyfriend succumbed to systemic pancreatitis.  I was fifty-two.  Both events occurred within ten days of Christmas.  Both altered my life beyond recognition.  Throw in all the empty seats at the dinner table and you will understand why I am prone to major funks mid-month.

This year my descent into the wormhole of rumination was also fueled by a bad case of homesickness for my native Ohio.  Don’t get me wrong.  The Rockies are exquisite.  They pierce me with that surreal, humbling sensation that I really am just a grain of cognizant sand.  Likewise, the Great Plains, the American Serengeti, begin (or end) in the eastern half of Colorado fascinates me.  Green in the late spring and summer, russet and gold in Autumn, it possesses a great rolling beauty of its own.

But we currently live in the Denver Metro area.  It’s heartbreaking to admit that thus far, the largest city in the state has been disappointing.  Native folk call the hordes of newcomers to their turf as transplants.  For reasons valid and otherwise, a high number of born and bred Coloradoans don’t like us newbies. I haven’t come up against any overt haters, but twenty visits to the local watering hole isn’t enough for people you’ve pleasantly talked with twenty times to acknowledge your presence.  Maybe it’s because I can’t eat spicy food and have publicly declared I could never eat green chile.  It’s demoralizing. 

If such a thing as luck exists, we must have forgotten to pack it up.  One major setback and a seemingly endless queue of lesser contretemps have not helped the fostering of the warm and fuzzy.  I miss the straight up culture of the North Coast.  It’s natural for me to long for the sense of place and belonging, the familiar and welcoming and the rolling farmland I called home for fifty-eight birthdays.  Admittedly less stunning than the mountains, but oh so much closer to my heart.

Usually, my descent into holiday rumination only lasts a couple of days.  No one lives sixty-one years sorrow-free.  One period of winsome tears and I am outta there. This year it gripped me as tightly as I clung to it.  This year it took more to straighten me out.  Ultimately, it took a series of candlelit soaks in the tub, soft seasonal music on my cell and twin rivers flooding with salty self-pity to get myself back in the moment.  Most of all, I owe the reclamation to my husband.  Acting as a sort of male geisha, he poured hot water down my back and through my hair, all the while talking hopeful things in a low voice as if comforting a sick child or wounded animal.  His care and support made me remember what I had too easily forgotten.  We have what too many people do not.  We have each other.

Christmas is what we can make of it.  It’s how we choose to welcome its dawning into our consciousness. It’s in the ways we create new traditions when the ones that live in our memory can no longer carry on in real time.  Lights adorn our tree and fireplace mantle, bringing kaleidoscope comfort in their steady glow.  My husband and I will celebrate this Yule with our own tradition.  Quietly, almost drowsily.  We’ll play games.  He’ll ace our old version of Trivial Pursuit.  I stand a good chance of taking Scrabble.  If our board game stamina and supply of Labatt’s lasts, the odds are even with Yahtzee.  We’ll cozy up and watch old Christmas home movies of families we never knew on YouTube.  There will be one new tradition this year.  I will make a toast to a most beloved sister who won the good fight following the diagnosis and treatment for a rare form of cancer earlier in the year. 

For many, holiday depression for far worse cause than my own is a very real kind of annual cruelty.  For many, Christmas really will be just another day.  It will be a sorrowful and needful Christmas.  Yet the message I want to leave you with is best said by quoting old but utterly contemporary


You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore, be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann, Desiderata, ©1952.

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