The holidays aren’t always the most wonderful time of the year

Winter break is not always a getaway for students. John Matey shares how the holidays are not always wonderful.


Two people sitting in front of a Christmas tree. Photo Credit: Unsplash

John Matey

I know it’s not a foreign concept, but sometimes the holidays aren’t easy.  There’s that tension with relatives about who voted for who, uncomfortable things better left unsaid, long hours of travel, or so much running around that the “holiday” starts to feel more like work than work does. 

That was never the case for me.  My pandemic winters were spent alone, my family too far away or too immunocompromised to visit.  The years before were quiet – just mom and me.  We’d exchange gifts in the morning, then go about our day like nothing had happened.  When I was young and my grandmother was still alive, we’d visit her out in Ohio, sometimes with uncles and aunts.  I was always the youngest person there by several decades, and I never knew what to do or say, so I kept to myself.  

I wondered about “family”.  

For some, family is deeply uncomfortable.  For a long time, I felt alone in thinking that because there’s such a strong emphasis on how it’s supposed to make you feel the opposite.  Family has an automatic and unspoken positive connotation.  There are those commercials on TV – a surprised family comes outside to fresh snow and a shiny new car in the driveway with a big bow on it.  Movies about the “true meaning of Christmas” or “making it home for the holidays”.  Family photos from friends on Instagram.  It’s everywhere.  Whatever “family” may mean to you, good or bad, it’s inescapable this time of year.

A couple of years ago, I spent the winter break on campus instead of going home.  At the time, my mother was in poor health and I couldn’t bear to see the state she was in.  Family wasn’t the source of comfort I wanted it to be.  But when all your friends leave campus to see their parents and relatives, you feel a little guilty not doing the same.  The Fickes parking lot was entirely empty except for one car – mine.  There were no footprints or tire tracks in the snow.  The dorm hallways were silent.  If you’d told me I was the last person left on earth, I might’ve believed you. 

I thought I could dodge the difficult feelings by hiding in my dorm.  I wanted to avoid all the reminders that my mom was sick.  I didn’t want to think about doctors or treatments or upcoming appointments.  But it’s tough when it’s quiet, and that guilt I was so afraid of crept in anyway, along with fear and isolation and everything else.

And I know that now more than ever.  This year will be my first celebrating the holiday without my mother.  There’s no way to hide from it or the feelings that follow.  For those of us that are going into the holidays without our loved ones, it’s a hard road ahead.  There’s nothing insightful to say when it comes to these things.