Imagine—a holiday season without a side of disappointment.
by Bianca Smith
Every Christmas Eve, we’d get dressed up and venture over to my Nonni’s house. Her tree always dripped in the same glass ornaments with gold tassels. The main course, year after year, was lasagna with a bolognese she had been perfecting for decades. And shamefully, we’d house it and the biscotti that followed because we knew what came after the parents had finished their espresso: presents.
Then, Nonni moved into an independent living community.
Then, my uncle passed away.
Then, my parents separated.
My cousins started having families of their own. My brother moved to L.A. I had to figure out how to split my traditions with my boyfriend’s. Not only did our yearly rituals become harder to pull off—they became undeniably different, riddled with loss and grief and growing up.
So why are we still so hell-bent on haphazardly replicating traditions of holiday’s past?
The easy answer is nostalgia.
The harder answer? Control.
If we could just go back in time—rewind to the early aughts of the new millennia—our family would still be “intact.” My uncle would still be cracking jokes. Nonni wouldn’t be too tired to pull out her recipe book.
The world “was just simpler,” and traditions kept that simplicity in order.
Even though I know I can’t control the passage of time, that awareness doesn’t stop me from wanting to try. So for the past few years, I’ve contributed to a chorus of, “it just doesn’t feel like Christmas anymore,” and “I wish it could just be how it used to be.”
I think the only sound way to usher in “the new” is to mourn the sunnier parts of our lives that are no longer. If we don’t, how can we possibly live in the present? (No matter how difficult the present might be—hello, the last few years.) I don’t truly believe time is the enemy. Neither is change or death. The enemy is thinking that traditions can wholly replicate memories and people we’ve come to cherish.
That’s why this go-around, post-this reflection, I want to make a conscious effort to keep looking forward.
I want to reject the deep-seated disappointment that comes with failed familial rituals by reimagining them altogether. What might evolving traditions look like—ones with looser boundaries and space for change?
My first ideas include time for rest, flexible plans, intentional outings, and solo exploration. For as long as I can swing it, no computer time past five. Gifting experiences, like a trip to a museum, instead of anything material. Ordering from a restaurant I’ve been meaning to try. Hosting a themed movie marathon with my friends.
As I continue to imagine new possibilities, I feel like these efforts deserve a new name—one that forgoes that rigidity of “tradition,” and instead, welcomes movement. Change. A sort of empowerment in being here, now. Let’s call them “current-times.”
They expire after they’re completed, leaving room for whatever takes its place next season.
Already, in simply writing it down, a new sort of holiday warmth is starting to form.
Bianca is a writer and strategist from Chicago. She helps run a digital community called Distant, spends too much time cuddling her two cats Pearl & Norman, and refuses to acknowledge that pasta sauce can also be called gravy. You can find more of her work at www.biancapsmith.com and you can find her on Instagram at @biancapsmith and @distant.community.