Christmas Meanings and Memories
Back in the Day
Christmas has mostly been a fun and magical time of year for me, back as long as I can remember. When I was very, very small, Santa would come sometime during the night on Christmas Eve, put up a Christmas tree and leave unwrapped gifts beneath the tree. My brother and I would get up and run into the Living Room (probably less than 10 feet from our then shared bedroom), and delight in what had been left. I only remember one disappointment, when I asked for a puppy (live dog), and got a stuffed pink dog instead. We did eventually get a dog, but that Christmas, “Pinky” and I were uncertain friends.
Then, when my brother and I were just a little older, we would go out as a family and buy a tree on Christmas Eve and decorate it that evening. At the time, I just knew that it was a family tradition. I had no idea that waiting until Christmas Eve guaranteed a bargain price, if not the best selection for trees. The electrical lights always went on first (My Father’s job), followed an eclectic array of ornaments from every time and every place imaginable. It didn’t occur to me that we might not have been “afford” new and matching expensive ornaments. Finally the tinsel was added to the tree. It was authentic. It was homey. It was Christmas.
We all went for candle light Christmas Eve services at our Church, and came home to finish up the tree, and wrap any last minute gifts. Once we were a little older, we sometimes enjoyed some wine together on Christmas Eve. On Christmas morning my brother and I were up very early, and I was usually the one to distribute the gifts to my Mom, Dad, brother, and me. We would take turns (sort of), and talk about the relative merits of each present.
There was always plenty of food, and the rest of the day was spent playing with new toys while the adults (my parents and my brother’s Godparents) would enjoy adult beverages and watch sports while they discussed politics and current events.
Time Goes On
As I grew up, Santa no longer left unwrapped gifts. He would still leave at least one gift, even when I had realized who he actually was. All the other parts of Christmas were still there, however. Then, once I got married and moved away, Santa no longer visited at all. And for a while we still celebrated with decorations, wrapped gifts, Christmas cards, and Christmas music.
The more years that passed, the less and less we did to mark and celebrate the day. We didn’t have children, so there were no traditions to pass down. My husband at the time had very few “fond” memories of Christmas growing up, and even fewer “fond” memories of Christmas during his tour in the Army. He related one story of standing guard on Christmas Day at the truck depot, literally watching the water in a nearby puddle freeze where he stood.
Through him I began to understand and appreciate that my expectations of a lovely, fun, warm, and magical Christmas were not universally shared. In fact, many people have a downright difficult time around Christmas, trying to paint on a smile while they hurt inside.
My Personal Low
My first husband (the Army vet) passed away suddenly, but not entirely unexpectedly, in November one year. It was just over one month from Christmas. Now, you may think that this Christmas was a low point in my life. No so at all. My family and friends rallied around me. They brought me food. They took me out. I attended Church services with my Mom. Everyone basically looked after me, and made sure I wasn’t alone or lonely. I was very blessed.
On the contrary, my lowest Christmas was a few years earlier. I remember going out into the living room late one night and sitting down, alone. There were no Christmas cards or decorations. There was no music. Neither was there a Christmas tree, or gifts underneath it. There were no Christmas cookies or pies or cakes. Heck, there wasn’t even any fruitcake. It was just like any other day, except for my expectations of what it could or should have been like. I had allowed myself to stay busy at work and had done nothing to make it a special time, and therefore it simply wasn’t special. But rather than being just any other normal “day,” it was so very sad. But only because of the difference between what I knew the day could be like and what it actually was.
The Problem with Expectations
I’m not sharing these memories to make anyone gloomy. I’m sharing them because these two very different Christmas holidays taught me a valuable lesson. When I expected nothing but pain and loneliness, any kindness from family and friends was sweet beyond measure. When I expected a “normal” Christmas, with music, food, cards, presents, and so forth, and nothing was done, then I was crushed with sadness.
So, dear readers, here is my very best advice for a happy holiday: be a giver of joy, whenever and wherever you can. Find other people who may be hurting, even if you are are hurting yourself, and just be there for them. Bring them food, ask them out for a meal, or take them to a movie or concert. Find a charity to donate your time to. Go to a local church, and find out what they need to have done. As the YMCA advertisement goes, find “common ground” and give back to your community.
Count the blessings you already have, and be truly grateful. And if you can manage to observe some of the traditions, realize how lucky you are to do so. You will get out what you put in, and more. Life is a miracle, and celebrating the birth of a savior is one of life’s most precious moments. Remember that, and you will be fine.