Well it’s Christmas, and I’m not even sure how I feel right now, really. I don’t entirely feel like myself anymore. Whether it is just assuming the role of family member again, or maybe all the processed food I’ve been eating, but as far as I am concerned I have been enjoying the anticipation of Christmas far more than the actual event.
To be sure, having lots of little cousins to celebrate the holidays with is very fun and brings me back to my childhood. But, at the same time, it is easy to see that they do not really understand the whole point of the Christmas thing, and that living vicariously through them is empty at best. I remember being that age, too. All I cared about was presents and (to an extent, but not as much the) food, dessert to be specific. That was all I wanted, and that is all they care about. By the time I am now old enough to appreciate the true meaning of Christmas, it seems to me to be so much more hollow than it ever was before.
I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. I am absolutely appreciative of the fact that not everyone gets to have a holiday with family. A lot of them cannot or do not have the family to celebrate with. It just occurs to me that the whole thing is rather forced, in a way. Like without the holiday, we wouldn’t all be getting together to exchange gifts, if it wasn’t what we were supposed to do.
Then again, maybe I don’t truly understand what Christmas is about yet. When I was younger I did think it was about the birth of Jesus, but it turns out that Christmas existed before it was customary to celebrate his birthday on that day. It was based on a celebrating the changing of the seasons, and centered around Roman Mythology. After the winter solstice, it was customary to give gifts and honor the time when the shortest days of the year were over, and that winter was only uphill from there.
This is an interesting perspective, given that today the winter solstice is actually the very first day of what we call winter. Indeed, I consider winter to be comprised of the cold, dreary months of January through March, when snow makes its greatest appearance, and it is a task of endurance to keep focused on spring. The way I see Christmas, in a way, is one last big party before having to endure the long, cold months, which are still primarily denoted by early darkness each day.
This year, I just happen to have something to look forward to in March, so I do not anticipate the winter being too terrible for me. Generally speaking, though, winter is a very hard time for me, characterized by severe seasonal depression and spending too much time indoors. Every winter for as long as I can remember I have been plotting to get out of New England for the season. Every year I get closer, but each winter also becomes a little easier as I make it through more and more of them.
I think what I find challenging about Christmas is that it is a time where I end up sacrificing my self-identity in favor of the group-identity of my family. This is something that not everyone does, to be sure, and that I had not really recognized to myself until this year, as of this writing. It is well known that groupthink and individual thinking are two very different things. This affects not only society at large, schools, workplaces, as well as, very significantly, family dynamics.
Role responsibility can be easy to slip into, comfortable and safe. Humans yearn for identification, definition, and comparison. We want to know who we are, and what that means (identification and definition). But neither of those denote a thing without something else to compare it to. So I can know that I am a daughter, and that means I am responsible for x, y, and z. But without understanding what a mother or father’s role is, I really can’t convince myself that I know I am doing the job right.
As I said, identity among society is also important to our validations and feelings of self-worth about ourselves. How can we know we are worthy or right, if we are not fulfilling these roles that have been chosen for us, and that we have chosen as well? Take the holidays in everyday society. Our identities will evolve and change as we interact with different groups and individuals, in comparison to them. So if I am in a store, I am a customer and the woman behind the counter is a cashier. We each fulfill that role and then move on with our lives. I am not always a customer, but when I am interacting with an employee, I am one, and behave as such.
If I walked into a store, and began telling workers how to behave, I would be trying to assume the identity of employer. I have defined that role and took on its meaning, but without the expressed consent and cooperation of others around me (comparison, once more) my role will be invalidated and proven empty. I can no longer identify with the role of boss, and how I feel as a person will be unequivocally effected. This would be the same thing if I were to lose both of my parents tomorrow, and then try to continue in the role of daughter with other people who are not my parents. I would lose what I would believe to be part of myself, as people would no longer interact with me in that way. I would have to find a new way to define and compare myself to others. To find my place in the family, as it were.
I can also compare this to friendships, as well. If I am your friend, I will act as what I believe a friend would. The role of myself and personal identity will take a second place to the role of friend. The personal actions I take and words I say to a friend will always be interpreted in that context. And if I am no longer a friend to someone, I become an enemy, or a non-friend. Then everything I do will be taken in such a way.
There is no escaping this phenomena of identity as a precursor to everything I do, think, say, and seem, both to myself and others. I cannot separate myself from who I (and others) believe me to be. So when Christmas comes along, there is such a concentration of what we perceive to be identity, that things can become very confusing. Especially as relationships and roles change over the years. I began as daughter, granddaughter, niece, and child. But I have evolved into sister, cousin, young adult, role model, and adult. Someday I may become aunt, mother, grandmother, or elder. What I do and what I say each Christmas to come will first be effected by those labels, then by the personal spin I put on them.
Breaking it Down
Identity is neither a good nor bad thing inherently. It just is. And so is Christmas, neither good nor bad by itself, but rather shaped, colored, and perceived by the way we shape, color, and perceive our personal identities first. Generally, in everyday life our roles shift and evolve so seamlessly, so effortlessly, that we hardly even notice it. And throughout all the changing, we need to feel a core of truth: who we are as a person when no one else is around to identify with and react to.
But now and again, we notice our identity as we are acting on life. Usually when we sense some dissonance between what we think we should be and what we actually are. In any given day, I may find myself disagreeing with what it means to live out my role. Maybe a friend says something that makes me want to defend myself as a person, or a figure of authority seems to be in error in some way. A feeling of uncomfortability arises, and I must adapt to this change, in order to keep my feeling of identity as solid as possible, so that I may not waver from feeling as if I belong in my present role.
When too many of these dissonances occur, it can give rise to what we might call an identity crisis. We don’t know who we are because all the identities that we had assumed for so long covered up our “true” selves, and it is nowhere to be found. This is why being true to oneself is said to be crucial to happiness.
Acting on It
So, how do I feel now that I have gotten that all out? I feel closer to my own identity, or even lack thereof. Yes, my identity does include being a daughter, a woman, a sister, and a consumer. But it also includes being a writer, a hiker, an animal-lover, and a yogi. True identity is not one thing, but rather it is an expression of every possible role a human could have for themselves, shown in endless combinations by us all. But we must not forget what we are first and above all else: conscious. The fact that we are able to understand and think about identity is in itself a form of identity that is fundamental to what is means to have consciousness in this world.
We are unique to the extent that we take these various identities and assimilate and integrate them into ourselves, into who we truly perceive ourselves to be. If I just to try to identify myself in terms of my relationship with my family, or society, or even friends alone I will not be true to myself. But if I take all these different identities found within me and take them all together, all implied within each other, I find that I am not my identity, but rather the ability to have an identity and act according to it, and the choice of whether or not to do so.
If I am comprised of all identities possible, it also is logical that I am comprised of no identity at all. It is certainly something that I could think about and write on for as long as I live, and learn new things about the world I live in. But for now, recognizing the presence of needing and wanting identity within myself is enough for me to feel like what I refer to as myself again. In other words, Merry Christmas to you, to me, and everyone in between.