Holidays are hard.
The easiest for me may be Yom Kippur, the time of year when Jews like me officially dedicate ourselves to feeling guilty. I'm good at that!
But the Hallmark holiday expectations of the fall and winter really bother me. I'm sure there are people who spend these special times with friends and family, having great food and fun. But in my world, holidays are stressful and largely unsatisfying.
Take Halloween. There's no real meaning in the day for my family -- I'm not even sure why we mark All Hallow's Eve -- just a conversation that begins in September about costumes and candy.
We've gone pumpkin picking, made costumes and hung creepy lights. Each year it's more or less the same.
My introverted son reluctantly knocks on doors and asks total strangers for treats. Sometimes he goes to prime neighborhoods with friends, other times he sticks closer to home. Either way, he only lasts a half-hour -- maximum -- from the time he leaves the house to the time he dumps his load on the floor and starts sorting.
His favorites are usually the candies we bought to give away. So, why can't I just get him some gummy bears and be done with it?
Then there's Thanksgiving. Ever since I turned 18 and went away to college, I've faced the annual question: Are you coming home?
First I must set aside my irritation that I haven't lived in Chicago for 22 years and yet it's still considered "home" -- even by me, sometimes.
Next, there's the travel. It isn't just the crowds and inconvenience, it's the expense of flying me, my husband and our son halfway across the country. We've always stayed in the city with my parents, so there's no hotel cost, but we compensate by shopping and eating out extravagantly while we're there.
We typically cram all kinds of museums and outings into a very short trip and then see my extended family once, on Thanksgiving Day. I love my family -- aunts, uncles, cousins, their children -- but there's not much opportunity to really connect if the only time I see them is when we're scarfing down appetizers and stuffing ourselves around tables large enough to accommodate dozens.
I usually move from conversation to conversation, talking to everyone briefly, catching up on the superficial developments since I saw them last (the year before, if I'm lucky). Just when I feel like I'm really getting to know them again, the night is over, the trip is winding down, and all my intentions to stay in touch via e-mail and phone are like a depressing holiday hangover.
Since my father died a few years, it's only become more difficult. I feel much more inclined to wrap myself in the warmth of my extended family and yet less able to because of my geographic and emotional distance from them.
And finally, there's Chanukah and Christmas. I'm Jewish, my husband is not. So we celebrate both.
Twice the happiness? Theoretically. But in reality, it's just twice the anxiety.
In general, we blend traditions fine. And I especially love the holiday music. But every year since our son has been in school, there have been culture clashes. This year he's in chorus, and for the winter concert they'll be dressing up in elf costumes and singing "Follow the Shepherd" and other religious songs. To appease us, his chorus teacher has added one Chanukah song. I'll enjoy my son's performance (except when he's mouthing words he doesn't want to sing), but not the feeling of being marginalized.
And now that we live in a different state than my husband's family, there's the Christmas version of the Thanksgiving question: Will we be coming home? (Home in this case means North Carolina, where I lived for 15 years and my husband lived for 25 years.)
We face the same challenges with this holiday as we did with Thanksgiving -- the travel, the expense, the crammed agenda with little chance of building on the important relationships with people who live states away now. More frustration, less satisfaction.
Don't misunderstand, there are special days in the life of my family, many of them. You just might not be able to tell when they are by the dates on the calendar.
So, for now, I look forward to New Year's, because it means I can relax for a while.
At least until Groundhog Day.
A version of this LifeFiles column originally appeared on about 70 TV station websites managed by Internet Broadcasting Systems.