I’m not a big fan of Christmas. It has sometimes been lonely, always a financial burden, and occasionally emotionally hurtful. The best Christmas of my life was in 1997, as I anticipated the birth of my third daughter. It is now the yardstick by which all other Christmases are unfairly measured. With the rose-colored glasses of hindsight, I forget the things that made that year a little tough. Each year, I grieve a little that everything isn’t quite as wonderfully as it was in 1997, even as I recognize that things are still good.
It’s hard to reconcile the season’s tradition of spending with the season’s spirit of spreading love. Some people may perceive receiving a gift as receiving love, but I’m not one of them. If you love me, spend time with me, talk to me about things close to your heart or mine. Emotional intimacy is what I most believe demonstrates love, but it’s hard to come by. So the commercialization of Christmas doesn’t feel like a celebration of love.
I’m not a fan of doing things because that’s the way they’ve always been done, so if a tradition isn’t fulfilling, I don’t perpetuate it. I loved the year we didn’t put up a tree and only gave donations to the recipient’s favorite charity. The older kids all hoped the youngest would protest, but she was with me the whole way. The economic downturn had just hit hard (was that in 2008? 2009?) and charities were gasping for breath. So we did what we thought was right, helping a variety of worthwhile charities for animals, people, and the planet. That Christmas felt right for me, but some of my family didn’t feel the love.
I looked around the house last week and saw no “holiday spirit.” There was the usual grousing of the amount of effort required by Christmas, mainly from my husband and I. So, I had a long talk with myself. If there was no Christmas spirit in the house – no honoring of the yule or Solstice – then the fault was mine. As the mom, it’s my duty to get the ball rolling, not to whine that no one else is doing it.
I pulled up my big girl panties, and found a way to the holiday spirit. Several of us put up the Christmas/Yule tree this year while listening to seasonal music; next we hang a garland of greens. We’re planning to observe the solstice on the 21st and take a day-trip to the mountains just to hang out together (weather permitting). We’ll give modest gifts to our family here, donate to charities, share a meal or two, and play some games.
Sometimes, it’s hard to remember what’s really important. One part of me sees the holiday as major time-suckage – and I’ve got things to do. But when it gets down to it, and I think about what the family needs as a whole, I see something different. I’ve worked hard to protect my family from those who don’t recognize us as the special people we are. It’s as if our love for each other is a shield against the negativity of the rest of the world. To keep that shield strong and alive, we have to spend time together. I have to make a home that they want to return to, a place where they know they are loved regardless of what they do for a living, who their partner is, or how much money they make. They have to know that I still value them, even when their beliefs are different than mine. We grieve the family members that aren’t with us this year, carrying them in our hearts. The events in Connecticut have sharpened the focus on my own family — because I can. They’re still with me, and I’m lucky they are.
What about y’all? I just can’t believe that the holidays are beautiful, happy times for everyone. Am I the only one that struggles every year, not to run screaming into the night? Am I the only one that has to work to find why we do this, year after year? I don’t think so. What are your stories? Your non-traditions? What do you do instead of the Norman Rockwell life? I’d genuinely like to know.