Christmas boosts my spirits. Lights, songs, stories, and human connections push back against the darkness. But “the most wonderful time of the year” is a lot to live up to. Alongside joy, this can be a season of forced cheer, reminders of loss and grief, awkward get-togethers, or unwanted solitude. A search for “How to Survive the Holidays” generates zillions of hits online.
I like to approach Christmas as a massive buffet table, laden with more selections than will ever fit on my plate. One year I sing carols and admire flamboyant lawn decorations. The next year, my plate holds a simple Indian restaurant, a walk by the lake, and the start of a new jigsaw puzzle. In good years and hard years alike—and aren’t most years some of each?—replacing expectations with options helps fit the observance to the needs of the moment.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.