Did you ever notice those words share many of the same letters? During the season when we are supposed to be joy-filled, why is it that I sometimes feel blue? I love the planning, the anticipation, finding the perfect gift for someone on your list who won’t expect it, the feel of my house decorated and cozy, the glow of the lights on the tree etc. It is like living in a little surreal bubble for a while (I would say snow globe, but I live in Texas!). But the actual event itself leaves me a little blue and disappointed no matter how hard I decide this year will be different.
My reasons are not hard. My father died when I was 13 and holidays were never the same after that. The traditions just a little different, the locations changed, and always something missing that would never be there again. Don’t get me wrong, we celebrated, there was laughter, family get-togethers and lots of fun, but somewhere deep in a corner of my soul it hurt.
I did a good job of avoiding the holidays for over a decade. Being an unmarried nurse, it was easy to work those holiday shifts so my colleagues could be with their families. So for all but two Christmases from age 21 – 35, I worked. There is something sacred and special about sharing a holiday with docs, nurses, patients, police and firefighters. It actually gave me peace. One of the ER docs I worked with used to write “LOC” as a diagnosis on some of the patient’s charts. No, it didn’t mean Loss of Consciousness, Laxative of Choice or any other medical abbreviation. It meant Lonely on Christmas. It was for those folks who were seeking a warm touch, a hot meal, a bit of human connection to ease whatever pain it was they suffered. That pain was unlikely from an ailment (and they typically had many) but more often from a place in their soul that hurt a bit more on a holiday. I could relate.
When I left the hospital and started working for a healthcare IT shop I found myself with 2 weeks off nearly every holiday. No diversion now! I met my husband a year or so later and the holidays became filled with other people’s traditions, memories and stories. So fun to hear it all and I was welcomed to be there, but I couldn’t truly experience any of the lore and “good ole days” they spoke of. Somewhat like watching slides of someone else’s vacations perhaps?
Fast forward a few years and we have a child; time to establish our own traditions. The first of which was that Santa came to our house. We weren’t going to haul kids anywhere on Christmas night. I love that decision; it was a step towards creating a “new” holiday that was “ours”. Those mornings we have shared have been the best part of the holidays for me. We get to weave what our traditions will be; we have a bit of his, hers and ours; and watching the kids’ excitement is genuine joy for me. Christmas eve, Christmas day, Christmas week – we cram the rest in with those friends and family who are near. I listen to other’s stories, raise a glass with their traditions, attempt to relive some of mine, unwrap the gifts that abound; and try to put on my happy face. Those times are always a hodge-podge of joy, pain, happiness, sadness, closeness, severe distance, worry, fear that my kids will not behave as expected and sometimes still, even disdain that I still don’t have “mine”.
But this year I have changed. I am trying to find my own truth and calling. Going through the motions of the season seems flat and that deep pain in my soul seems closer than ever. But the pain is not for my childhood holidays or memories, but for authenticity. Perhaps the commercialism and the abundance have worn thin? Would all this “joy” of giving (things to people who need nothing) be better served with something more important?
The best part of this holiday season for me was in "presence" not "presents". My younger brother and I decided our kids did not need to rip though another set of the endless gifts they receive. We gave up lovely presents, wrapped in beautiful paper that would be cast aside within minutes of being opened, for an evening of bowling, laser tag and pool! I am 100% confident that they have no idea who got them what in the past 5 years for Christmas, but I have that same confidence they will remember blasting their cousins, aunt and uncle, and mom in laser tag; they will remember learning how to play pool (even if my lovely, perfectionist daughter hated that she wasn’t a pro on her first shot!); they will remember video motor cycle races with their cousins; they will remember learning some pool tips from my brother; and they will remember who had the highest bowling score! They will remember that JOY!
And on that night my heart didn’t hurt, I didn’t feel melancholy, and I felt connected to those I was with. It felt real. There were others in my family whose holiday’s were spent in the ER, on bed rest, getting medical procedures, with a spouse who was home for just a brief stint, on a beach, missing their spouse who was working a shift, suffering their burdens silently, having a Christmas dinner with most of their family absent and more I am sure I don’t know. For all of these situations, no gift can make it better.
So, fondly remember the days of yore, consider less commercialism, and perhaps find your joy in authentic moments with those you love. I know that is my plan from now on.