Holidays are hard.

Years ago at Thanksgiving I invented the Rockwell Deviance Quotient, intended to measure how far off your celebrations fall from the heartwarming variety depicted in his work. I wrote about it then in a slightly jokey tone, and have referenced it a few times since.

Here’s the non-jokey thing. For lots of us, part of ‘the holidays’ is being hyperaware of absences: people who are permanently gone from our lives, or simply no longer present in the ways we remember and miss. Or maybe we’ve never had Rockwell-painting-Hallmark-card-style holidays, and the sense of absence we feel is for something that was never there in the first place.

Which is not to say that we can’t have happy holidays, and I’m certainly looking forward to mine. But there’s bitter along with the sweet.

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