I had a moment while my husband not home to finally wrap his Christmas gifts, and I began foraging the apartment for left over gift wrap or boxes. None was to be found. I came across a large stack of tissue paper, and I got the bright idea to make due with what I had. I started rolling the gift in individual layers of tissue sloppily taping it down as I went. I had picked this pretty horrible shade of green because it IS Christmas after all. When I finished wrapping it in enough layers to hide the gift’s actual shape, I set it up and looked at it.
Wow. That is ugly.
I instantly thought, “You know, it kind of looks like a pickle. Justin LOVES pickles. We could put a face on it, and it’s like a Mr. Potato Head, but in pickle form!” I began crafting my masterpiece with crayons, poster board, and tape. As I tentatively chose which shade of Crayola would best suit her tiny bow, I wondered, “When did this begin?”
The past few years I have noticed that my gift wrapping game has been a little off, or at the very least, bizarre enough to turn gifts into anthropomorphized vegetables. Every year the same thing, I wait until the last minute, get my mother to wrap it for me, or turn gift wrapping into a creative arts piece. When I was a kid one of my favorite things about Christmas was wrapping presents. From about age 8 until seventeen, my Dad would have me wrap most of his gifts he had bought other people. In spite of my early aspirations, I was no Martha Stewart. My wrapped gifts didn’t have the clean lines and precise creases, but they were made with love. I enjoyed the crinkling of ribbon, that sound and feeling when shears can glide down the wrapping paper without catching, and the look of brightly colored boxes stacked underneath a tree.
Miss Pickle may not be the product of joy in creative expression. She was the embodiment of my desire to NOT be reminded of Christmas. I mean, if you want to NOT think about how your are never wrapping Christmas presents for your father again, just think about the most NON-Christmas thing to have ever existed: A female pickle with a bow on her head. I felt struck with grief and then guilt. I couldn’t even get it together for just a few minutes to wrap a present “like a normal person.”
But as I looked into her seemingly stunned, poster board eyes, I thought, “Wow, that’s kind of genius.” My brain had deciphered a way to protect myself from being hurt, from feeling grief, without even consulting me. My mind said, “Oh, this current memory seems very like that other sad memory…QUICK, THINK ABOUT PICKLES!” Miss Pickle no longer looked pathetic to me; she was perfect. I could feel guilty about my very secular, non-Christmas-ey gift wrapping, but I decided the kinder thing was to appreciate my own coping mechanisms (it was at the very least entertaining for a little bit). I allowed myself to feel sad, because having to turn presents into imaginary friends in order to avoid grieving IS something to be sad about.
Holidays come with their own challenges, and when you add grief on top of it, they can become emotional mine fields. You begin to tip-toe around those moments that might bring up the dead. We think if we confront or approach feeling sad it will be the end for us, and grief will pull our limbs apart and nothing can be salvaged. In my experience, any time I try to walk on eggshells in my own mind, I create more stress for myself. The effort I spend in order to put on a happy face just makes the holidays harder.
It’s unrealistic to think Christmas should be this time where we all get our shit together for two days and live with plastered smiled on our faces, but it doesn’t mean we will become bloody victims of the emotional minefield never to return. It’s this continuum that may be filled with moments of each of those extremes, but it’s mostly filled with a lot of time in between. I think it’s the times in-between that matter the most. Am I berating myself for not being happy? Am I judging other people for having a good time? Am I violently trying to shove down sadness and anger to make it through this dinner because I think everyone needs me to?
Your Christmas may not be the perfect holiday, but it doesn’t have to be made miserable by your own harsh self-judgments. When I look at Miss Pickle, I see sadness AND joy. She’s the embodiment of making the best out of what you have. She’s the beautiful (or at least interesting) way in which my own brain decided to adapt with a painful experience. She’s kind of what self-compassion really is.
This year it is my sincerest hope and prayer that we all can bring self-compassion into our holidays.
May we all feel how we truly feel.
May we give ourselves space and silence when feeling overwhelmed.
May we take good care of ourselves so we can take good care of the people we love.
May we practice forgiving ourselves in those moments we are not at our best.
May we listen more.
May we take care of our bodies with movement and just enough food and drink.
May we take deep breaths.
May we loosen our grips on perfection so that we can embrace the joy in the messy.
May we remember to laugh.
May we understand that peace on Earth starts with our own peace of mind.