The first notes of Mariah Carey after Thanksgiving usually freak me out.

I float above my body and count down the days until the New Year, hoping it will be over soon. I am not a Scrooge, per se. I’m more of a ghost of Christmas-please-god-not-again.

As someone who has often been broke and depressed, Christmas reminded me of everything I was not. Christmas was the time of year to rack up the credit cards on landfill fodder, fight about religion and politics, then plaster on a smile and pretend everything is fine.

Andy Williams’ “The Most Wonderful Time” of the year embodied toxic positivity. Minimalism sounded appealing after listening to “Santa Baby” for the 100th time. And “Baby It’s Cold Outside” made me consider moving into the convent out by the highway.

It wasn’t really that I wanted to ruin it for anyone else. Who am I to squash someone’s joy? But nevertheless, the inability to escape the noise and the expectation squeezed any tiny ounce of jolliness out of me.

But something has changed. After a decade of having a holiday-free house, a Christmas Tree stands proudly in the dining room this year, and lights twinkle in the window. My partner and I listened to the “Miracle of New York” as the herd of horse ornaments from my childhood pranced along the evergreen boughs.

This year we even went to the barn Christmas party. But, before the festivities, we stopped by my horse’s stall for treats and a good grooming.

I watched as my mare stretched out with delight when my boyfriend worked the bristle brush along her neck. Once back in, she looked through the bars of the stall, begging for a few more goodies with puppy dog eyes as black and shiny as the freezing winter night outside. Then in the biggest cliche of the evening, I felt my Grinchy heart dethaw a little more. I even found something whimsical about the decorations on the barn’s roof and the stockings waiting patiently on the hooks of the stall doors.

Horses do not have the part of the brain that plans the way we do. Instead, they are always in the moment, ever and only present to the thing in front of them. So perhaps I can be more like a horse at Christmas and revel in the simple beauty around me. Yes, getting new gear is fun, but what if the holidays were about time and enjoying the presence of the things we love?

After the party, we cranked the carols and sang down the dark highway the whole way home—and I forgot to be cynical for a while and just enjoyed the sound.