The emotional labor of holidays
Threading the needle between excess and disappointment
This weekend is Easter-Passover-mid-Ramadan and Ada is insistent on celebrating and acknowledging all of them. She told me the other night she planned to fast, and when I asked why and for how long she wavered before saying, “2 days.” I shrugged. She asked for a snack.
Her paternal grandfather is Jewish, and though we haven’t made a habit of celebrating most Jewish holidays with any regularity, the invitation to join for Passover coinciding with April Break from school presented a convenient option for an edifying experience with a side of the family we’re constantly feeling guilty for not seeing more.
Because Easter also happens to be on the same Sunday, and this is the holiday the kids have a strong candy-driven association with, they want to know if the Easter Bunny, baskets, and an egg hunt will find them at their Jewish grandfather’s house. They want an egg hunt with copious jelly beans and a basket stuffed with presents. They’d also like a piñata because last year their friend’s birthday party was on Easter afternoon, rendering it a double-whammy of celebration.
I tell them I’m not sure if it’d be appropriate to celebrate Easter with their grandpa. The kids are mystified and I think about explaining the religious origins of Easter but it seems like too much as we’re trying to leave for school.
I find myself both hotly anticipating and resentfully participating in all holidays, which have become highly commodified, candy-rife events of overabundance. I believe in the moments of joy, the surprise of waking up to something that feels generous and joyful, thoughtfully chosen gifts, ritual and yearly traditions, but also can’t get over the excess and number of times a year my kids get bags or baskets or stockings full of THINGS.
The irony of course is that I’m simultaneously the purveyor, curator, purchaser and maker of all elements of the baskets. Moms everywhere ARE the Easter Bunny (and all other invented manifestations of gift-giving) and thus it is also my guilt to weight, joyous reactions to relish, and time to spend asking myself a multitude of questions about the contents of said baskets, the appropriate volume of candy, whether or not to buy Peeps, whether the kids will be disappointed by new toothbrushes in lieu of more candy, and how much money should be spent crafting said basket.
Part of this comes from experiencing repeat holiday disappointment as a child. Even before we live-IG-storied all our children’s holiday joy, I had a sense that other people’s Easters were more abundant than mine. My parents—as Korean immigrants to whom most of these holidays were extremely foreign—didn’t have a sense of how anything was “supposed” to be celebrated. My mom would see the chocolate bunnies for sale at CVS and pick up a few and on Easter morning there’d be no basket, but she would hand us a chocolate bunny at breakfast. She might also have picked up a nice bar of soap. Or some socks. The dream of a basket filled with goodies that I imagined my eight year old peers waking up to never happened, nor did the Christmas stocking, or Santa’s arrival with abundance.
My childhood was a test of regulating my expectations of holidays against the much more modest reality (which sucked at the time), but of course, this was also the unintended point that I can appreciate in adulthood. The desire for stuff is endless, trinkets and candy are shiny but unsatisfying, and when given a lot, one will still want more. The joy is momentary, but is that what’s priceless?
I now look back and think that my parents were relatively free. They didn’t know the expectations so they were not beholden to them. They weren’t familiar with the aesthetic of a thousand other people celebrating Easter. They also likely didn’t know I was disappointed, the greatest freedom of all.
My impossible goal then, it seems, is to provide joy and avoid disappointment. To create tradition without overabundance and waste. To avoid more cavities. To have peaceful family time. To make it all seem like it was no big deal at all. Because I’m just another 2022 mom.
Read / Listen: Few books have left a greater impression than Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. Vuong’s new book of poetry Time is a Mother was published last week. Also listen to remarkable interviews with Vuong on On Being and Talk Easy.
Salad season: I’m excited about Jess Damuck’s Salad Freak. Damuck was—true story—Martha Stewart’s personal salad echf.
Indie brand secondhand: Noishaf Bazaar is the newest spot online to buy secondhand from small brands like ARQ, Ace + Jig, Christy Dawn, Doen, and more. They have kids’ stuff too!
Healthy + delicious: Kate Ray’s newsletter, soft leaves, about nutrition, and plant-based food, community, and so much more.
See you next week. Hope whatever you’re observing or celebrating is without fuss or tantrums.