Holiday Survival Guide: Background information when reading Seven Days of Us

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Seven Days of Us

A Novel

by Francesca Hornak

Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak X
Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2017, 368 pages

    Oct 2018, 400 pages


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Holiday Survival Guide

This article relates to Seven Days of Us

Print Review

Norman Rockwell's ChristmasIn Seven Days Of Us, Francesca Hornak has her characters quarantined for seven days during the holiday season; Days trapped with one's family is stressful enough, but the added pressure of "The Holidays" can really turn up the heat. 

So why, one might ask, are the holidays a particularly stressful time for so many? First, for those who celebrate Christmas, there's a myth that it's a joyful, stress-free time when one is supposed to feel love for all humankind. Those of us in the West – even those who don't necessarily celebrate Christmas – have been brainwashed by Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, in which families from all walks of life celebrate merrily, even those in impoverished conditions. Something deep inside many of us wants the Normal Rockwell/Hallmark Card family gathering.

WebMD includes an interview with Ken Duckworth, MD, medical director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, who outlines several possible reasons stress is at its peak during the December holiday period:

  • Sometimes the holidays can trigger unhappy memories and, because we often revert to our younger selves during the holidays, childhood memories can be particularly strong during the period.  Duckworth states, "you may find yourself dwelling on what was inadequate about your childhood and what was missing." Those who have suffered tragedy or other unfortunate events during the holidays may also find their stress levels increasing as the anniversary of that event triggers disturbing recollections.
  • Another stressor is the presence of relatives who can be particularly unpleasant (e.g., the uncle who insists his political leaning is the only right way to think, and anyone who disagrees is obviously a subversive). 
  • Holidays can also highlight what's changed, such as the absence of a person who is no longer able to spend time with the family, or the child coming home for the first time after leaving for college. 
  • For others, the issue is what's stayed the same; the things one has found frustrating for the last decade are still frustrating this year.
  • Some feel out of control and at the mercy of those around them. They feel compelled to respond to each whim of their parents, spouses and children, even if those demands cause them to feel overwhelmed.
  • And last but not least, there's the fact that one's defenses are lowered. Most people are much busier during the month of December than at other times in the year, purchasing gifts, attending parties, cooking special dishes, etc. People generally eat worse, drink more and sleep less. By the time the holiday actually arrives, people are often worn out, tense and less able to cope.

The most helpful thing a person can do, Duckworth feels, is to approach the holidays mindfully. He suggests making a list of the holiday tasks you're responsible for. Then, under each item list reasons why you should continue the tradition, and then another list of reasons why you shouldn't. Think of what would really happen if you didn't follow through. Would it truly be the end of the world? Is there something you could do instead that would reduce your stress but still honor the intent of the act? He mentions, for example, a tradition of putting a poinsettia on one's grandfather's grave every Christmas, and he asks what would happen if that didn't occur. "Your gut feeling might be: Calamity! Disaster! But get past that initial reaction. Think about what would really happen. Maybe your aunt would be annoyed. Is that really such a big deal? Could you make it up to her later with a brunch in February? Instead of trekking to your grandfather's grave, could you honor him in a different way -- lighting a candle or saying a prayer?"

He also lists his "Four Don'ts of Christmas":

  • Don't do the same old thing if it causes you stress.
  • Don't expect miracles
  • Don't overdo it
  • Don't worry about how things should be

And finally, if nothing seems to make your holiday depression better, don't be afraid to seek professional help.

Freedom From Want
The iconic image is Norman Rockwell's Freedom from Want, also known as The Thanksgiving Picture or I'll Be Home for Christmas. It is one of four oil paintings inspired by US President Franklin D. Roosevelt's State of the Union Address in 1941 in which he outlined four freedoms fundamental to people everywhere in the world: Freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear. The painting was first published in The Saturday Evening Post on March 6, 1943.

by Kim Kovacs

Filed under Cultural Curiosities

This "beyond the book article" relates to Seven Days of Us. It originally ran in October 2017 and has been updated for the October 2018 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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