I love Christmas. Not just like it, tolerate it, but love it. I love everything about it: the decorations, the food, which naturally I overdo, the music, the movies (I do a Christmas movie marathon every year) and the lights. Probably more than anything is the lights. There’s just something so nourishing to the soul and spirit to see those Christmas lights to bring you back to those innocent childhood memories of walking the neighborhood with the family. The problem with me, as I said, is that I overdo it. I squeeze the marrow out of everything Christmas and by the time it actually comes around, I kind of just want it to be over with.
I get my tree no later than the first week of December to have as much time with my Christmas decorations up as possible. Once I get past the inevitable irritation of the multiple times I have to strand the lights (so annoying!) to get them just perfect, then I can relax a bit, get some ornaments on, then let it sit til the next day when I finish. Then everything else goes up. For a nesting female like me, the pressure to have one’s home look as perfect as possible for Christmas is strong, especially with a pile of Southern Living and Better Homes and Gardens magazines staring at me. Sometimes I don’t want to bother. That being said, when it’s all done and everything is up, I’m always glad I did it, didn’t Krank it and ‘skip Christmas’, and my home is a cozy Christmas cottage for a month.
Then there’s the baking. I’m not the best cook, despite having been to culinary school, but I’m a really good baker. And a really good eater, which doesn’t make for a really good waistline. But nonetheless, it’s part of the season, so bake I do. Aldi’s has crazy sales, so I always stock up, but then I end up with all of this stuff I have to make with it. And then to try to actually get them out the door and not just on my plate (that’s about 50-50 success rate thus far, lol, and that might be generous). I always go overboard, it’s in my nature, and this year I just decided to give my friend who’s also a baker and takes stuff to the military base (her husband, a retired Marine, works there) some of the supplies so I wouldn’t have to make everything. I’m too tired for it.
I usually spend Christmas with my sister but this year she’s out of town, and while I’ll miss her, I’m really glad we don’t have to cook the big dinner. Because what invariably happens is that after the meal which usually lasts a total of about 30 minutes, we both end up with tons of dishes to wash and feeling what a ‘much ado about nothing’ kind of exercise the whole thing is. Sure, the food is good, but it’s a lot of work and it’s over just like that. You may or may not hang out for a while, comatose from all the food, and then voila, Christmas is over. The whole thing is kind of a hype, and often when I’m sitting there after dinner I think to myself ‘Those people who take cruises to Aruba at Christmas time are brilliant! I’ve got to do that next year’. And so it goes.
As the time goes on and I get older, and as a currently unmarried woman who’s not particularly close with my two remaining family members (my sister and nephew) – though I love them of course – I start to wonder ‘what’s the point anyway’? I don’t have kids, and I don’t really have ‘a family’ (we have a brother somewhere, but he’s exiled himself from our family, so we let it be). Yes, I have close friends whom I love and who are ‘like family’. But they’re not ‘family’, and this holiday is all about ‘family’, and in my impression, the illusion of family and reality. You never see for instance any cat throw up on the carpets in Southern Living magazine, nor do you see the irritated looks or know the arguments the perfect people in the pictures just had, you just see the perfect people.
Maybe they hate each other. Maybe the husband or wife is cheating. Maybe one of the kids is an addict who’s not in the picture because they’re out on the street. Or maybe they really are as perfect as they look, I don’t know. But I do know that for someone who didn’t grow up with anything resembling even close to a ‘happy family’, sometimes the Christmas season is hard. Despite the pretty decorations, twinkling lights and tasty treats, sometimes it’s hard. And lonely. And usually a great big letdown, that feeling that no matter how you try to dress up what you don’t have and make it look good, you still don’t have it.
So in these moments, when I’m feeling the ‘holiday blues’, I do what I have to do all year long when I feel low – practice gratitude and empathy. I think of our troops and their families who don’t have a choice in whether they’ll spend Christmas together.
I especially think of the Gold Star Families who’ve lost a son or daughter (and the families of troops lost to suicide), and what they’ll be going through at either another heartbreaking holiday or perhaps their first without their loved ones. And devastatingly, this month and last has seen a terrible amount of domestic and combat military deaths so this will be a very painful day for many. The same for fallen first responders, police and firefighters. It’s been a rough year for the law keepers and the citizen protectors.
I thank God for what I have (and yes, for the ‘unanswered prayers’ as the song goes) and ask him to direct my thinking so that I don’t get into self-centeredness. I think of others and how I might be of service to them, especially people who are themselves having difficulties. As a person who naturally tends toward the negative, it can all be quite overwhelming, both my own thoughts and feelings about ‘the holidays’, and knowing that so many others are enduring so much pain during them. Which pretty much confirms that saying that if everyone put their problems on the table and had to the choice to take someone else’s problems instead, they’d probably just take back their own.
And so it is two things I want to remember about the holidays. We never know what another is going through, and we don’t have to be perfect. And if we get the holiday blues we can stop thinking about it and just do the next right thing. Divert attention from the negative issue and concentrate instead on something else. Anything else. If we’ve lost someone in our life and someone else is experiencing the same thing, we can offer our shoulder to cry on since helping alleviate another’s burden lightens our own as well. The point is that it’s almost always true that no matter how bad we have it, there is always someone that has it worse. That’s not usually a comfort, if ever, and I myself don’t always see it that way when it’s my ‘problems’, but it’s true. And most of us are pretty lucky and have things pretty good, despite whatever we think sucks.
So this Christmas and Holiday season, as I pray to remember the real ‘reason for the season’. May we all find some joy and hope amidst the hustle and bustle and get that connectedness with the Divine Spirit that the season is about. Whether you believe in Jesus or God or not, surely seeking a higher-than-human Spirit can bring comfort. And so as we go on about our way, keeping the day and the season however we do, may we keep the Spirit of Gratitude and Caring for others, for truly, that’s what it’s all about. Merry Christmas and God Bless you all.