What to do when the holidays don’t make you happy

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Before you put down your fork and knife, the pictures of Thanksgiving turkeys baked perfectly golden and plopped on serving plates have flooded your social media feeds, along with a bevy of high-angled shots of extended families at the dinner table—toothy and coiffed and perfectly posed.

Cue the holiday season.

It was a pleasant Thanksgiving; nothing tragic happened. Perhaps you overate and marinated in your gluttony; perhaps an in-law made a passing comment that you found mildly irritating; perhaps you imbibed in too much table wine and woke the next morning feeling like your mouth was a litter box, but—everything said and done—you enjoyed the break well-enough and now you must prepare for a solid month of “holiday spirit.”

Why are you so depressed?

Your neighbors have strung up their Christmas lights, winding the branches of the barren trees in their yard, illuminating each night with an electric cheer that paradoxically compounds a darkness that you can’t seem to shake. In the car, you try switching the radio to holiday music, but after five seconds of Mariah Carey, you turn it back to Black Sabbath on the classic rock station.

Maybe it’s Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a condition that no amount of Dean Martin holiday songs can soothe, and no matter how many times AMC airs “Elf” or “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” you can’t seem to summon a laugh.  

Perhaps SAD explains your sullenness.

Every inflatable Santa Claus or snowman on a front lawn seems to exacerbate your inner-airlessness. But if you say anything about it, you’ll be derided for your cynicism, accused of being a Scrooge, or a Grinch, or some reviled fictional Christmas character that everyone loves to hate when December comes around.

You wish you could see past the depression, buoy yourself above the black clouds—there are no situational reasons to explain it away—and harness some merriment buried deep inside of you, something you’re sure still exists, somewhere. 

But why can’t you find it? Is it really because the days are getting shorter and darker as we approach the solstice?

You’ve tried using the lightbox you keep in your basement; you’ve tried exercise and scaling back the booze, the godfather of depressants; you’ve tried to rationalize your emotions and stop the self-pity, but all you want to do is sleep.

Seriously, why are you so depressed?

Maybe it’s not your fault; maybe it’s a mental health issue and the best you can do is talk to someone trained to listen, or take some pills, or—as seems to be the case for many—suck it up and act like you’re happy.

Maybe you should make yourself watch “Elf” and crank up the Dean Martin Christmas tunes, deck the freaking halls, pick out a tree and decorate it with tinsel and lights and bright-colored bulbs. Or maybe the only thing you can do is wait out the storm. 

This, too, will pass, or so you keep telling yourself as the carolers cross the street.   

If you or someone you know needs help, contact the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or text: 62640.

About this Author

Nathan Graziano

Nathan Graziano lives in Manchester with his wife and kids. He's the author of nine collections of fiction and poetry. His most recent book, Born on Good Friday was published by Roadside Press in 2023. He's a high school teacher and freelance writer, and in his free time, he writes bios about himself in the third person. For more information, visit his website: http://www.nathangraziano.com