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Does Festive Togetherness Pull Us Apart?

Before we turn our backs entirely on 2022, I think a little festive de-brief is in order. I couldn’t help but notice this year that there’s something rather paradoxical about the festive period. Yes, it’s celebrated as a time for togetherness, but the fact is that it often pulls us apart. All our well-meant attempts to come together in peace and love over Christmas and New Year have a tendency to create problems that leave us feeling less fond of each other than we did before.

Take the classic family Christmas, for example. It’s held up as the ideal scenario – everyone gathered around the tree opening their presents in a shared flurry of festive joy; or, the whole extended crew sat around the heaving table, feasting merrily away until they achieve a collective stupor. Nice images indeed, as every Christmas film illustrates. But the truth is never quite so rosy. Behind the smiles and indigestion, there can often be a whole realm of hurt feelings and distress. The issues range from the minor, such as having to bite one’s tongue in the face of provocative political opinions, to the major: full-blown family bust-ups that won’t be resolved for years to come.

Sometimes, the problems even start before Christmas has begun. Friends of mine who got hitched recently faced, for the first time, the dilemma of whose-family-do-we-go-to-for-Christmas? Weeks of diplomatic efforts with both sets of parents throughout December resulted in unsatisfactory compromises and feelings of resentment all round. A falling-out over a coming together! What festive irony. New Year’s Eve rarely fares much better. After all the festive sludge – those endless days of over-eating and over-drinking and not knowing which day of the week it is – the last thing most people want is more eating and drinking and togetherness. And yet, together one must come; otherwise you’ll cause offense. You have to whoop it up, whether you like it or not. And woe betide anyone who doesn’t happen to be in the mood for joining hands and hearts in a great gust of joie de vivre just because the calendar says it’s the appropriate time to do so.

Then, once you overcome your reluctance and get to the party, you may well be dismayed to find that the people you’re supposed to feel a connection with behave in a strange way. Introverted types like me tend to clam up and become awkward shadows of their usual selves. Not much fun. At the other end of the spectrum, the extroverted types really go to town and behave like all the world’s a stage – which would be fine, except that there’s no off switch for when it gets a bit much. In fairness, this applies to nearly all parties; but everything is scaled up during New Year’s Eve because of the social compulsion to have a good time and the sticky, contrived atmosphere that so often results. OK, now I do know that I’m very much the “overthinking” type. But I’m sure some of this must be relatable? I can’t be alone in feeling that the festive period is a somewhat strange time of year. I’m not criticising the positive spirit of it all. There’s no question that everyone has good intentions. But these seldom play out quite as we might wish them to. Well, anyway, the good news is that it’s all over and done with now. Just another twelve months till it swings round again! …Happy New Year, everyone!

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