By Eric Noel Roman
“Feliz Navidad, Eric!” yells my mom at midnight on December 25th. Every year the holidays come and go extremely fast. Since I was a young child, I’ve always felt so alone during this time of the year. I remember going to gatherings thinking, “This sucks. This is not my family. These people are my mother’s friends. We are only here because these people feel bad for us.”
As my teenage years approached, the holidays became more and more depressing. My mom worked on Thanksgiving and my family was just her. I would see my friends have grandiose family events with food, alcohol, and more importantly smiles. I hated it. Then I began learning that the holiday season is the time of year where depression and suicide rates spike. Pay attention to people in public. They are always running full throttle and leading themselves into a path full of stress and anger. Little by little I realized that after my favorite holiday, Halloween, a holiday where you can dress up in costumes, came before my most hated time of the year. It was the “Holiday Season.” This time of the year was miserable because I would spend it watching television specials or staring at my freezer wondering what to heat up. My world just sucked while I saw my friends with their mom, dad, grandma, sis, bro, and the rest of their family. Here I am cold in a single family home and microwaving a turkey dinner. Then one year I said to myself, “Eric, you love to cook. You love your mom and she is the biggest family in the world. She is mom, dad, friend, and every other possible role you can fathom.”
The year I turned fourteen, I pulled my mother to the market and shopped for ingredients to build the picture perfect family dinner for Thanksgiving. My mom had no idea what was happening. I made my dinner and my mother’s face was glowing with pride. She could not believe that I put together a four-course, full sized, family dinner for twelve. That year it was great, except for the month of leftovers. The following year I did the same and bragged about how great my meal was. All of my friends challenged me to prove that my turkey dinner was as good as I said. The next day, I fed them and all were dumbfounded on how great it was. Year after year my dinners were sought after. I had requests to make side dishes, my infamous turkey, and even received questions about desserts. I never had them over for dinner but I had to make many to-go plates. One year I paused while preparing my turkey and thought, “This is it. This is what the holidays are about. I am alone cooking dinner for one, my mom. However, all of my social circle is celebrating and thinking about my food.” I made my friends realize the love I have for them. They are my family.
For years I cooked and my friends clamored. Then one year, in my late twenties, I was sent to DJ in Rhode Island during Thanksgiving and Christmas. “Welcome back depression,” was all I could anticipate. I began my new location on Monday the week before Thanksgiving. I was in a city I had never been to and with people who were total strangers. Let’s fast forward to the week of Thanksgiving. I made friends, but ended up wandering Providence alone questioning my life. Was this where life was leading me? A DJ traveling alone, living alone on the road, and never celebrating togetherness? I found a nice restaurant that day, had a tasty but sad dinner and got pretty drunk. I came home for a few weeks and returned for Christmas to work “Good ‘ol Rhody.” This time was very different. Every employee at that club welcomed me with a hug and an open invitation to come to Christmas dinner. “Eric, you became family on your last trip. Please come to have dinner. Santa left you a gift.” Two weeks in and I was family? That was all that came to mind. Then all of a sudden that warmth returned. All from people who only knew me for two weeks.
It has now been three years since my Rhode Island experience. I have stopped looking at the “Holiday Season” as a time where I am alone, or sad that my family is one. I learned over many years if you pay attention to the Frank Lloyd Wright painting of that beautiful turkey dinner, or every cliché about the holidays, we are taught that this is the time for family. As individuals we may be saddened. Many of us do not have the good fortune to be near our families, or like me, do not have a family. Ignore the “norm” of the season and create your own. In doing so, the holidays take on a new meaning. That is right. You give the holidays meaning.
I took my holiday loneliness and made my own traditions. Eventually, they caught on within me and gave the season meaning to me. The season is not about family or dinners or spending time with friends, they are more about giving you meaning and purpose. You can make the holidays better for yourself. Maybe you have that large family and want to sink in a hole. Maybe you travel and never see your family during this time. The solution can be as simple as giving this time of the year a meaning only you know about. Execute and accomplish it for yourself. If it makes you happy then it has meaning. After time, you will see that the self-inflicted happiness will brighten up your year because you will have a new tradition to anticipate. Mine is to see my mother smile and have her tell all of her co-workers how hard I worked to make her a holiday dinner. “I have a personal gourmet chef. He is my son.” My holiday season has meaning now.
Eric Noel Roman is a local club DJ turned fitness type. He works to inspire others through his personal life encounters.