There’s a great line in After December where Brian and Kacie are leaving the New Year’s party and Tony says, “We’re just sitting around waiting for midnight anyway.”
What is it about the holidays that has us running familiar scripts that have little real value beyond their tradition?
Sometimes it feels like the holidays are a series of compelled merriment. One event after the next performed in a ritual of waiting for the gluttony of Christmas.
Decorate the house: assemble the tree, hang the stockings, put up front yard lights.
Work party: gather with colleagues to talk shop while wearing festive clothes and sipping cocktails.
Activity showcase: band concert, dance recital, choral performance, what-have-you; teachers show mid-year progress and kids perform holiday classics.
Church thing: singing Christmas tree, cantata, nativity, cookie party. At Dranesville United Methodist, where I grew up, Mrs. Money used to knit a dozen or so mini stockings and put candy canes in them to distribute to the children on the Sunday before Christmas. I liked a good Christmas Eve candlelight service, too, until we started boozing really early on the 24th and thought it irreverent to show up sauced.
Charity thing: answer phones at the telethon, give out coats and non-perishable food to the homeless, bring gifts to the family shelter, crafts with kids who probably won’t get Santa, canned-food or toy drive. We think a lot about those less fortunate than us this time of year.
Gifts and cards: acknowledge everyone who has helped you throughout the year with a small token of thanks and appreciation. Monetary values vary.
Somehow, in the middle of all these extra things, we’re also supposed to do special versions of our regular things like strategic planning for 2020, final exams, and cookie baking.
That he dismisses the rituals of Christmas is one of the things I love about Brian. He returns home on Christmas Eve, waiting for the last minute to engage at all. Then he spends the week after Christmas returning all the gifts he received and going to West Virginia to ski.
Jason and Joel’s grandfather had died over this most recent holiday break and so they’d seen little of the twins, a fact Brian delivers very matter-of-factly demonstrating his own emotional distance from such things as family and grief.
The New Year’s Eve chapter in After December is an important one. It explains what happened to fracture the group and though we get it from Brian’s perspective, you can feel the weight of everyone’s confusion and frustration. Even Tony’s. It’s in this chapter we get to see him animated and engaging with his friends.
Our own nostalgia for Tony – so thick in the Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday chapters – pays off when we see him in action on New Year’s Eve. And then we’re both in love with him (I hope) and heartbroken all over again.
What is it about those holiday expectations? Why do they put so much pressure on us? Like weddings, they’re meant to be milestones. They’re meant to provide a reference point for our collective history.
Even a painful one.