Last year, for the first time in my life, I suffered devastating depression from Thanksgiving straight through to Christmas Day. What happened to loving the holidays? How did my joyous anticipation turn to dread?
I did everything that would normally set the perfect cheerful holiday mood. We designed Christmas cards, got a real tree and put the Christmas carols on continuous play. I’m not much of a Betty Crocker, but I even made cookies, cakes, and pies from scratch! But despite all this, come Christmas Day I couldn’t wait to completely dismantle the tree! I couldn’t stand the sight of it for another minute. I gathered all the Christmas trappings, packed up all the ornaments, took down the wreath and dragged that massive tree to the back yard for recycling. After less than two hours, every single trace of Christmas had vanished. There wasn’t even a stray pine needle left in the house. I felt something like a murderess cleaning up the evidence.
Part of the depression stems from the fact that, like weddings, holidays have become obligatory. I mean, you can’t say “no” your friend’s wedding without making a bad impression. It doesn’t matter who’s there, or if the music and the food are equally tasteless, or if you’re generally, colossally bored at these events, you still have to go! Holiday family gatherings are no different. If you’re not stricken with swine flu or some other contagious disease, you have to go or face unrelenting scorn and unending guilt.
I know. I sound like a real killjoy. But last year, Christmas and Thanksgiving were painfully depressing. More than that, the family gatherings were even more excruciating than normal. With no kids, no real religious convictions and an aversion to rampant consumerism, the holiday season seemed hollow and anticlimactic.
So a few days ago, I started planning how I could avoid my holiday depression as well as the inevitable holiday family gatherings. I realized the best way to do both was to inject the holidays with deeper meaning, and for me that meant giving my time, attention and heart-felt attempts at baking to those who really need it.
Thousands of people across the country spend the holidays alone, the majority of whom are seniors or the sick or a combination of the two residing in hospitals, nursing homes and other health care institutions. Plenty of people visit hospitals on Christmas and Thanksgiving Day, but I feel that the real gift is in developing relationships with the people who are alone not only during the holidays, but alone for the rest of the year. That’s why it’s important to start volunteering now! But where do you start?
The National Holiday Project works to arrange visits to people in hospitals, nursing homes and institutions. It provides a comprehensive guide on how to begin volunteering. Another way to find volunteering opportunities is through Volunteer Match, an online recruiting source that matches volunteers to over 70,000 nonprofit organizations. You enter your zip code and choose from a variety of organizations and services in your area. You’ll find opportunities to help animals, children, the disabled or, you can lend your skills to event coordination, tutoring, writing grant proposals and more. Volunteer Match is perfect if you want to volunteer in variety of ways, to a range of organizations during the holidays and year ‘round.
I know it’s cliché, but volunteering really does put meaning back into the holidays because you’re giving your time, one of the most precious gifts of all. Embark on a long-term volunteering project, and both you and the recipient benefit even more. By volunteering this year, I might actually lift my spirits as well as the spirits of those who need it. Oh! And if you’re trying to find a plausible way to dodge family obligations, what reason could be better than giving your time to a non-profit or charitable organization? You won’t be lying, you’ll be doing something great for the community, and you’ll rekindle your holiday spirit all at the same time!