Merry Christmas, or whatever...
Don’t sweat the small stuff.
"You don't choose your family. They are God's gift to you, as you are to them."
- Desmond Tutu
Imagine with me, for a moment, that the scenes from the films Armageddon or Dont Look Up were playing out in real time, and we had 3-6 months left before we’d all perish forever, or the geniuses around the world would figure something out and we’d go back to normal life. Grim situation, but what would we all do? I imagine it would be some form of living your best life coupled with spending as much time as possible around those you love.
This time of the year has come to mean holiday season for most parts of the world… and because of the impending new year, people often take time to reflect. Now you may feel like you have achieved nothing today. Or in the last month, Or over the last year. Or perhaps even the last decade. Indeed, you might feel you peaked in high school as the coolest kid with your bell bottoms walking up on stage as ‘prom king’ alongside the darling of the school as your ‘prom queen’1. You may see your high school classmate appearing in Forbes 30 under 30, or your sibling buying a Patek Phillipe Perpetual Calendar Chronograph, or spot someone your age in a New York Times feature, and you may think… “how did I f*ck up so badly? Is it too late to fix it?”
Boy do I have good news for you... You’re f*cking grand. Yes, you! Of course this is not because you did the right things or have great potential - but because you’re a human being. Regardless of your race, creed, religion, education, attractiveness, wealth or nationality… you remain a part of a larger family which has endured the most gruesome existence and still managed to survive.
If Apple TV commissioned an exclusive TV series about humanity as a whole, you would enjoy it very much, would you not? We’re inherently a heroic species which has spent the majority of our time as an underdog in the fight to survive. I don’t need to tell you about the suffering our ancestors have endured, or the adaptations we have made over time… but during this time of the year, at least in the Northern Hemisphere where I have spent over a decade, humanity’s ability to adapt really does shine at this time of the year.
Today is the winter solstice, the shortest day of 2023 - everything is dark and frozen, the parks are still and dead, and right about now, our ancestors would be fighting to stay alive. And what have we done? Strung up lights all over the place and started skating around on ice rinks as if this is all normal. We have taken something that was desolate, and turned it into something joyous… a time which many believe to be the best time of the year. Spiders, birds, rats…? They have all f*cked off. Us? Turn up the music and bust out the mulled wine… smash some mince pies and lets have a good time. Utter defiance!
I mean, this is not a new idea, and coming from South Africa, this narrative does not resonate directly at all - during the winter which happens in the middle of the year, there is usually no holiday season to look forward to - we’d usually leave the country! This doesn’t detract from my point, which is: we all find ways to decorate our winter. This is as true for the seasons, as it is for our actual lives. We have ups and downs in life, so-called summers and winters… there are no straightforward decisions we can make regarding the winters in our lives which will simply make them go away2. All we can do, is decorate our winters.
To highlight this point… All this is, to state the obvious, not true for a dog! And as god is my witness, should I wake up as a dog one day, I hope some human will have the good heart to put me down immediately, since I won’t have the ability to kill myself because the option won’t occur to me… because I’ll be a stupid f*cking dog, and I never want to be that.
At this point you are probably wondering where I am going with this… and you might be thinking… “So why exactly is this good news anyway!?” Well, studies have shown, humans are wired to connect, and this connection affects our health. Low social interaction was reported to be as bad as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and to being an alcoholic, more harmful than not exercising, and twice as harmful as obesity.
At this time of the year I hear colleagues and friends joke about having to put up with the in-laws, or dealing with crazy kids 24/7, or preparing feasts for large gatherings… whatever. You hear talk about putting up with things, and dealing with people you only see once or twice a year… and it all seems so woefully transactional. As a child it means opening presents, as an adult it might mean travel, gift-buying, and trying to remember the name of your sister-in-law’s husband who wears a sh*tty Hublot and always likes to talk about watches but knows literally f*ckall about them. What this all loses sight of, is the fact that you may never see the same faces again.
Many reading this will in fact be travelling to see your grandparents, or parents, or siblings for the very last time. You don’t know this for sure, but if you did know for sure, you’d do something different, right? You would try to spend more meaningful time with these people, you would stop trying to rush off at every opportunity, and you might spend more time exploring your shared memories and bonding over your connection on earth.
Soon, most of us will be sitting in a space with laughing children who won’t be children for much longer, or proud parents or grandparents who won’t be around much longer, or friends who may no longer be in your life. It may not occur to you that all of it will become priceless when it ceases to exist. In the moment, it will be lost on you that you will never have another holiday exactly like this one. Time will move on, people will change, and some day your most treasured memories could end up being things which you experienced in the moment with nothing more than detached, annoyance. Knowing this now, I will say again: you’re grand!
If you're gathering with your loved ones at this time of the year, just remember: You don’t get many of these. Make them count.
So Merry Christmas, or whatever... Don’t sweat the small stuff.
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We didn’t have ‘prom’ in South Africa, it was called the ‘matric dance’ but I figured this term would be more universally understood.
I am not talking about bad circumstances like losing your job and then making a decision to apply for another job. This is more about things like mourning the death of a loved one - you can’t ‘decide’ to bring them back.. only time and grieving will help you through this.