Why Christmas Felt Different This Year

The phrase “twenty-something” has been introduced into my regular vernacular lately… probably because I see it used all over the place these days. I suppose it was coined as a blanket term to refer to those of us in that pivotal, life-altering age bracket: when we aren’t exactly kids anymore but still wouldn’t quite call ourselves adults; when our age is practically defined by this state of transition; when our teenage years are still a fairly recent memory, and yet we are simultaneously entering in a phase of life filled with weddings and baby showers. It is not uncommon for my Facebook newsfeed to toggle between posts about getting drunk at the club, right alongside gushing mothers announcing, “Baby Jake took his first steps today!” – both belonging to people in my same graduating class. This juxtaposition is bewildering to say the very least.
As someone who is far from having kids, but also far from going out clubbing every night (although, to be fair, there was never really a time when I was out clubbing), I find myself wondering where I fit in this generation. By some accounts, I am an adult. I moved away from my hometown for the first time last year, and have lived in two more cities since. There are no bills that I don’t pay completely on my own. And, with a gun to my head, I could probably explain to you the benefits of investing your 401k. But at the same time, in so many ways I still feel so much like a kid – My parents are still on speed dial for all general life questions (“Mom! I spilled nail polish on the carpet, what do I do?!”), and when I hear about people my age getting married and having babies I still can’t quite wrap my head around it.  I have also heard the term “quarter-life crisis” used to refer to this general phenomenon.
I found that this manifested itself most recently in my experience of Christmas this year. And, if the internet is any indication, it’s not just me.
Now, granted, my 2013 Christmas holiday is unique in itself, considering that I am essentially homeless in between two living situations. All of my possessions are in storage as I road-trip my way down the coast to visit family. This meant that leading up to the trip, this was the first year in my entire 24 years of life that I didn’t erect a Christmas tree (which, alone, made me a little more melancholy than I care to admit), and gift shopping / wrapping was a lot less of an event than usual. As a result, my holiday season as a whole was remarkably unremarkable, feeling much the same as every other month of the year. All of these could also be factored into an atypical holiday experience.
But nevertheless, I was going to spend ALL of Christmas with my family in San Diego – a first in awhile for me. The highlight of the trip was going to be spending the night IN my parents’ house on Christmas Eve, something I hadn’t done since moving out. I looked forward to completely reverting back to my childhood, with all the same wonder and tradition, and had no reason to expect anything otherwise.
But I would be lying if I said it felt the same. Something had definitely shifted during my absence.
There was something inescapably different about this Christmas. Even just deciding where to sit to open presents was enough to give me anxiety. (This goes back to the old “which-family-reunion-table-do-you-belong-to” debacle.) I used to always sit on the bottom stair, right next to my little sister, but now I felt like that area was too spotlighted. I’m too old to be in the center of the action now, aren’t I? But the couch – where my mom, dad, and older brothers all sat in a semi-circle – also seemed out of reach. I might not be the whirlwind of energy that my little sister is, but I also don’t think I’ve quite reached the point where I’m solely a spectator, either.

See what I mean here?
And speaking of my little sister, Christianne started high school this year. Was that the event that triggered this relative apathy in her? Sure, she was excited. It is Christmas, after all. But I had memories of her running full-speed around the house in footie pajamas, screaming at the top of her lungs about Santa coming… and by comparison, this Christianne was practically bored. For one thing, she took the time to change clothes before coming downstairs. Who does that? Or I should say, what kid does that? Her eagerness to grow up just ignites the opposite compulsion in me.
And another thing – Santa seems a lot lazier than I remember. Christianne’s name was written in black Sharpie on the wrapping paper itself, rather than on individual tags, and gift bags were more the giftwrap-of-choice than in previous years. The sheer quantity of presents seemed to pale in comparison to my memories of past Christmases, when I swear you couldn’t see the carpet through the mountains and mountains of toys… But that’s just it, are my memories skewed because I’m looking at them through the rose-colored glasses of childhood? Has Santa always had these habits, and only now am I seeing them with the wide-eyed skepticism of an adult?
I think Christmas might be the most raw example of the ‘quarter-life crises’ we twenty-somethings face on a daily basis. And, to be fair, I think Christianne is going through her own version of this as she grapples with becoming a teenager, having to decide how willing she is to show enthusiasm for something like Christmas without it making her “uncool.” For that matter, bless my parents for having to play witness to all of our respective existential battles, more than likely reflecting on their own place in the world as much as we are. Maybe the entire human experience is just waltzing from one demographic to the next, constantly in a state of transition and meeting the unique challenges of each with growing composure and perspective.
…On the other hand, maybe we should have just bought a goddamn Christmas tree.

2 thoughts on “Why Christmas Felt Different This Year

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