Sixth candle

Judaism has a fair number of week-long holidays (Chanukkah, Passover, Shavuot) and given the heavy ritual emphasis and heavy meals, we are liable to get tired of some of these holidays well before they end. Even if we wanted to, nobody can eat latkes and sufganiyot uninterrupted for an entire week and not suffer the consequences. On the left you see a poster from a Chanukkah event that took place in Berlin yesterday that a friend sent to me — ice skating party at the Wilmersdorf skating rink with skate rental available. From this we learn that even jelly doughnuts need to take a break from themselves by whizzing around the skating rink and burning off some calories.

But the problem of “too much holiday” is a bigger one than simply the food, and it affects more than just Jews. Maybe the enforced cheer is too much, or we just don’t feel cheerful. When this happens, under certain circumstances you can always just stop, but suggesting a solution like that ignores the fact that people all around you are celebrating and expect you to be happy, too. And let’s admit it — the expectation to love the people around us at all times, especially family members — can be extremely stressful. Our family members are often those who push our buttons most easily, those with whom we most conveniently regress into behavior patterns that please neither us nor them. Or we miss family members and friends who aren’t there; or the general emphasis on memories at holiday time dredges up baggage we rather wish we’d thrown overboard but obviously haven’t quite.

I think we’re all familiar with the way these problems can manifest themselves — whether they take the form of the holiday blues, or an intense flare of seasonal depression, or running around like crazy until we’re exhausted, or an involuntary episode of sickness that signals a more general desire to withdraw. It’s not helped out by the high expectations that our society places upon us for merriment and enjoyment, or the fact that the holidays at times throw us together with people we’d rather avoid.

I looked around the web for advice on this issue, and the general opinion seems to be that toward the end of Chanukkah we should be cultivating humor and laughter. If you google “Chanukkah jokes” you can find some typical stuff. I personally have always found Jewish humor rather dark — maybe because I didn’t grow up with it. And isn’t the skating doughnut funny enough? If not, at right is another piece of Chanukkah humor I find rather hilarious — you can always get me with a linguistic joke, after all. Lotsa people also like to laugh at the rhymes in the Adam Chandler Chanukkah Song.

As my contribution to stress-free holidays, I offer you some things I do to try to keep my spirits up during the holidays — one for every night of Chanukkah! I bet everyone would appreciate hearing what other readers do to “manage the madness.”

1. I’m sure everyone reading this probably has “watch the train scene from North & South” on their list of stress relievers. And possibly also the “first kiss” scene from Vicar of Dibley. Though it’s not a personal favorite, probably many would add Mr. Armitage’s reading of Ted Hughes’ Song. Lately I’ve been watching John Porter kiss Danni in Strike Back 1.2 and his sexy dream about it 1.3. In times of stress, viewing the work of Richard Armitage is always such a comfort.

2. Another film tip that always, always cheers me up, consider Crossing Delancey (1988). Available for streaming via Netflix. Trailer below. It’s also a nice film to watch during Chanukkah, dealing as does much Jewish-themed stuff with the conflict between tradition and modernity, but resolving it in an optimistic way for a change. Plus, it stars the delectable Amy Irving against quirky love interest Peter Riegert. And if you like Riegert, don’t stop before you see Local Hero — another great stress relief film, though it has nothing to do with Judaism.
In fact, consider doing nothing in the evening for an entire month but watching sweet old films.

3. I mainline grapefruit, the sweetest ones I can find, so I don’t need to sugar them. Do not laugh. I hower with grapefruit scented soap in the morning, eat a grapefruit for breakfast, mix a drink with grapefruit juice and soda water to accompany the meal at lunch, drink a grapefruit martini before bed (but only one). Something about the zingy citrus keeps me moving onward. (My mom thinks my love for grapefruit is a sign of an increasingly sour personality, but we can’t please everyone, can we? One woman’s sourness is another one’s energy!)

4. I listen to empowering music at intense volume and dance around before encounters I am dreading. For me at the moment this is the first movement of J.S. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. I crank it and whirl myself around for about seven minutes. Does the trick every time. Alternatively, I listen to calming season music when I feel I’m about to lose it. The album for me at the moment is George Winston’s December.

5. When I know a problematic encounter is coming up, I vow in advance that I am not going to be the problem or contribute to it. This is really hard to achieve, but even a little bit of de-escalation helps everyone, and when I succeed at it, I really feel great. Calm’s a gift we can give to all of the people around us.

6. Accept that I feel how I feel about certain things. If I’m feeling sad about something, it doesn’t help on top of the sadness (or anger, or whatever it is) to feel guilty about the feeling — about not feeling the happiness that probably a large group of my fellow humans are feigning.

7. If asked to contribute to some kind of charity that I can’t support either with time or money, I remind myself that all charities suffer in January when everyone’s paying off their holiday bills and recovering from the winter solstice debauch. They’ll need me as much or more in a month as they do now, and right now, there are people who need me more, especially students and other grumpy friends.

8. Finally, holidays are an especially hard time of year for introverts like me, since we recharge with down time alone rather than feeding our energies by being with people, as extroverts do. In response to the challenge to be “on” all the time, I cancel or simply RSVP in the negative to events I don’t absolutely have to attend. In moments of holiday stress, every second spent tucked up under my Bassetti, re-reading Little Women or the Spenser novels, feeds me ten that I’ll be able to use to be cheery, pleasant, and solicitous of others when I have to counsel students through final exams or just can’t avoid a social obligation. I like to emulate the chaRActers in Sloth Fiction. If you like cats, spend a lot of time petting yours. I don’t, but you get the idea.

Happy Chanukkah, Armitage fans! We’re nearing the end. Mr. Armitage’s favorite charities are here. So what’s your favorite thing to do to manage holiday blues?

~ by Servetus on December 7, 2010.

22 Responses to “Sixth candle”

  1. With the grapefruit, aromatherapy says citrus scents perk you up and work as an antidepressant. Might be a clue there. 🙂

    As I suffer with SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), I try to get a lot of light during the winter months. Have a daylight lamp at home, sit by the window in the office to get the sun on my face and last week, we got a dawn simulator light for waking up in the morning as well. Every method’s good except the bad ones! 🙂

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    • I had no idea about the aromatherapy — this is good to know — maybe i am not crazy 🙂

      a dawn simulator — who knew such a thing existed? Whatever works!

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  2. In recent years I will de-stress by watching VoD with RA…works like a charm!
    But one of my favourite “coping” mechanisms during the holidays is to sit in the darkened living room alone with just the lights of the Christmas tree on in silence so I can hear the crackling of the fire. I love my family but I do need my time to just sit and listen to the fire and stare at the lights.
    Oh and btw…I love grapefruit! 😉

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  3. In the downtimes between the usual holiday preparations of baking the family-traditional pecan puffs, procuring the turkey and veggies, and everything else, VoD is definitely on the menu! Perhaps Charade and Breakfast at Tiffany’s DVDS. And some Ballykissangel episodes. (NOT the last Assumpta ep – very nice that she’s married to RPG) The Full Monty? Just stuff with happy endings…

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  4. I hear you this is a really hard time for me as well with the cold weather setting in, the holidays, and the short dark days. I struggle with it. Here’s what I do… vitamin d (the sunshine vitamin) I take 10,000 ICUs in the winter. One of my fav movies is Bridget Jones Diary it always puts me in a good mood watching the happless Bridget find love. If it is sunny out, I go for a walk I find the fresh crisp air helps. But that being said, it is still a struggle, esp this year. And lastly, I try not to fight it too much, fighting it only makes it worse, I just try to go with it.

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    • When I lived up there I always preferred a crisp sunny day to a damp, dreary one. Hang in there, @Rob, I am definitely on your side.

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  5. Crossing Delancey and Local Hero are also two of my favourite films Servetus – Peter Riegert draws you in slowly, in the most low-key and un-starry way. For me they’re both films that work ethnic stereotypes (Jewish and Scottish Highland) with real warmth and charm, and portray idiosyncrasies with a deft touch – nothing too contrived or sickly sweet.

    I can’t resist Love Actually at this time of year. My other half hates Richard Curtis, finds his humour too knowing and self-consciously cute, so I re-watch alone. But there are some glorious bittersweet moments in Love Actually – Emma Thompson as the deceived wife deserves an Oscar. Plus a great sound track and Bill Nighy.

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    • I like Love Actually a lot and have exactly the same reservations as you. Everything is a bit too neat. But I also loved the Rickman – Thompson plotline. Though I wondered why anyone would cheat on Emma Thompson, especially for Heike Makatsch.

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  6. I hear you on the holiday haze. I’m Catholic; for Catholics, we aren’t in the Christmas season yet, we’re in Advent. Christmas doesn’t start for us until sundown Christmas Eve and then runs till Epiphany. My Orthodox brothers and sisters are currently doing their 40 day Nativity Fast and then celebrate Christmas January 7th. It’s hard to keep the spirit alive when everyone around you is taking down their decorations while you’re still celebrating.

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    • Ah, advent. I’ll eventually say something about it; it was my favorite religious holiday as a childhood, and I’ll be interested to hear your comments. I didn’t know that the Orthodox celebrate this period with a fast but I admire that a great deal — fits the mood of the penitential season.

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      • The Orthodox are hard core at fasting, too. The current Roman Catholic fasting guidlines are that you may eat one regular meal a day and two smaller snacks that would not together constitute a meal and the only days you’re required to fast are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday; abstinence is from meat only and is practiced on Ash Wednesday and all the Fridays in Lent. Orthodox (and some Eastern and Oriental Catholics) abstain from meat, fish, eggs, dairy, oil and wine. During the Great Lent fast, the first week is called Clean Week and Orthodox are encouraged to eat only one meal a day of uncooked food (those who are strong enough are encouraged to eat only on Wednesday and Friday of that week). Definitely makes me feel like a wimp in comparison.

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  7. Crossing Delancy is a wonderful movie! Looks like I can watch it again on Youtube. I have also seen Local Hero (although not from the very beginning). It is a gem of a movie!
    I also love grapefruit, the juice, the smell, etc. Another great energizing smell is orange mixed with ginger. Or Bergamot — love that!
    This time of year I love to light my many scented candles and enjoy the light, warmth and mellow cheer they spread. I am lucky that I have never had a problem with depression. Stress — well that’s another thing! But I do tend to stress myself out by leaving things to the last minute which also stresses out my poor family! My husband is not fond of Christmas (probably my fault). This is the first year I will not be selling Avon in 15 years and I am thrilled!! I am already less stressed and have started sending out Christmas cards! 🙂
    I have never felt like I am under pressure to be cheerful. But that’s probably because I am just naturally cheerful. Don’t cha just HATE me?! I can’t help it! When I feel depressed, it is usually because I need more sleep.
    My life’s philosophy can be summed up in a song in Monty Python’s “Life of Brian”. (Hope nobody is offended).

    It still makes me laugh!

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    • I could use people who are naturally cheerful in my life — I don’t hate you, I’m envious!

      Enjoy the break from selling. That’s gotta be a big relief.

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  8. Just for you jazzbaby, I’m leaving my decorations up until Jan. 7. Course that’s assuming I get them up by then. Having a hard time getting started this year!

    But I am in the spirit. “Elf” was on the other night. Hubs heard me convulsing w/giggles & came into check on me. “Again?@!!”, he said. “I needed a laugh!”, I replied. Also love the ’95 Little Women & the soundtrack. Yep, Bridget Jones too…that closing kiss is second only to N&S. sigh.

    But a nice brisk walk on the country roads out here perks me up & helps me sleep in the winter. @rob, dittos on the Vit D! !

    I appreciate the time you’ve spent, Servatus, writing these Chanukkah posts. I’m learning something new every day!

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  9. Chanukka on Ice is a scream. ROFLOL!!!

    By the way, my mother’s favorite movie is ‘Local Hero.’ She looks for ways to work it into a conversation. 😀

    @phylly, You crack me up! I’m not surprised your cheerful. Must be that Bill Murray gene. 😉

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    • it is my ex-SO’s very favorite film, so I’ve seen it many times. An underappreciated gem. Happy holidays, Frenz!

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  10. […] Two years ago I blogged about celebration fatigue and holidays that drag on too long. […]

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  11. […] around. As I write these lines, the beginning of Crossing Delancey is playing (I wrote about it here). Amy Irving — I love the way she dresses in this film. I’ve got a bottle of Three […]

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