This is the time of the year when so many good wishes and lovely thoughts abound. Happy Thanksgiving! Count your blessings! Enjoy the time with family and friends just being thankful for each other. Happy Chanukah! The festival of lights! Seven nights of celebrating freedom and participating in joyous traditions. Merry Christmas! Feliz Navidad! Joyeux Noel! Spend a silent night dreaming of a white Christmas while listening for the sounds in the distance of the herald angels singing joy to the world! Happy New Year!
Every year I jump in early and with both feet! I grew up at the feet of a woman who was all about Christmas!
So join me. Please. Maybe you already joined the Peanuts gang for Halloween and Thanksgiving. Now dig out the those wonderful Christmas movies that make us laugh and cry and feel good in their familiarity. And know that whether they are sentimental or hilarious, they all ultimately say something beautiful about life, family, hope, or peace . It’s a Wonderful Life. Miracle on 34th Street. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Jingle Jangle. The Holiday. Elf. The Christmas Story. The Bishop’s Wife. Home Alone. How the Grinch Stole Christmas. A Christmas Carol (offered up in serious drama, musical, animation, and Muppets to mention just a few). And don’t forget the television traditions – A Charlie Brown Christmas, Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, the original Grinch and countless specials highlight some singer’s new Christmas release. And if you can’t find any of those, no worries! Hallmark offers up 24/7 movies on two stations for your viewing pleasure.
Can you tell I have a bit of a Christmas addition? Right along with the movies comes my stack of beautiful Christmas books. I won’t embarrass myself by telling you all of the titles…but, a few could inspire you. A beautifully printed and illustrated edition of Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. The Christmas Pearl by Dorothea Benton Frank. “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry. A Cup of Christmas Tea by Tom Hegg. Children’s books that I never tire of reading – The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski, Cranberry Christmas by Wende Devlin, Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S. Buck, Silver Packages: An Appalachian Christmas Story by Cynthia Rylant, The Polar Express by Chris VanAllsburg, and The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson that never fails to make me laugh out loud.
In addition to movies and television specials and books to get us into the spirit while we are cuddled up at home in front of a fireplace (or just the tv) drinking hot chocolate, there are thousands of activities to spark the spirit. We start with decorating the house inside and out. We bake cookies, cookies, and more cookies. Wrap gifts in shiny paper and bows. Select a tree and set it up after untangling all the lights that were so carefully stored last year. Why are they a mess again? Then there are tree lightings, caroling and carolers, shopping, school pageants and concerts, amusement parks that light up the night just for the season, ice skating, craft shows, Christmas parties hosted by family, friends, or the office. And, of course, there is holiday music wafting over it all and providing a background to every activity!
With all of this hubbub of activity, cheer and good wishes…with all of the music and video and books…with all the cards and sincere wishes, I don’t know why it isn’t working. I was the Christmas princess. I could never claim the title of queen as long as my mother was alive. However, once she passed I did not ascend to the throne.
To be honest, I may have abdicated the throne. I could never have done what she did at the holidays. It was just so much. So much shopping – too much. So much wrapping – too much. So much entertaining. So much planning and cooking and hosting. She was always excited and happy doing it. She often started gift buying in January, picking up things as she saw them all year long. The last time I was shopping with her was the day before she went into the hospital, fell into a coma, and passed away. Fittingly, she bought a Christmas present during the short shopping adventure in August! I didn’t have the wherewithal to do that much. But I also didn’t have a joyful group of people descending on the house excited for the time and the gifts and the season. My gatherings tend to be small because my family is small. They also don’t show up to the season with boisterous excitement!
Over the years the celebrations of Thanksgiving and Christmas have shrunk for me. The joy of gift giving that I have all year long for birthdays or for no occasion at all just isn’t the same at Christmas when everyone is grumbling about “I don’t need anything,” “I don’t know what to buy for ______,” “Just give money or a gift card.” Don’t get me wrong. I am not all about presents and getting. I’m about giving joyfully and having it received the same way.
I love picking out the perfect present for someone and watching his or her eyes as the wrapping comes off to reveal the treasure. The fun is in seeing the joy and spirit of the recipient. But when I’m surrounded by people who keep saying that it’s no big deal and who grumble about decorations and Christmas music, well, it lets the wind out of the sails of my Christmas ship that is supposed to come “sailing in on Christmas Day.”
The last few years have been a struggle to find my Christmas spirit. Each year I go into the season thinking that I will find it again. I mean it was HUGE, how hard could it be to find?
When I was a kid I loved Thanksgiving with a ton of family. Aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents all gathered together at my grandma’s house. Hours of preparation, a fabulous meal, and hours of clean-up. But the company and the laughter made it grand. For most of my adult life, Thanksgiving has been a small gathering. Nice but not the same. Yesterday was a “friendsgiving” version filled with a large crowd of marvelous people and fantastic food. It was like the Thanksgivings I remembered from years gone by. The last months have taught us to be solitary so it’s odd being in a crowd in 2021, but it felt special too. But there was anxiety lurking in corners and, at least for one moment, spilled out nasty, angry, and hurtful. It sucks when you are the driver and can’t leave or drink that moment numb. Okay, one little hiccup isn’t going to hold me back. Onward to Christmas!
My first step was making my own playlist of music that banished those songs that should never be played. “I’ll have a blue Christmas without you…” “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams…” “Bells will be ringing the sad, sad news…My baby’s gone, I have no friends…Please come home for Christmas…”
Those are bad. But there are worse!
“There’s a world outside your window and it’s a world of dread and fear where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears and the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom well tonight thank God it’s them instead of you…Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?…”
“You see she’s been sick for quite a while and I know these shoes would make her smile and I want her to look beautiful if Mama meets Jesus tonight”
Those are GONE! Right here and now is the only time those words will be read or heard by me. Well, except that they are omnipresent everywhere you go! Must remember ear buds for shopping.
Next I started early this year watching some of the movies and reading some stories. They’re all the same. But that never bothered me. There is comfort in knowing what’s coming sometimes and in sappy stories. They offer hope, love, peace, and cheer. They have families that work to be together. There are always the friends who show up with great advice, scheming assistance, or at least the perfect bottle to make it all better. On top of that, each and every one finds the perfect love. No amount of spirit has helped me find the road to that. And last night I provided my own bottle.
Sometime this week the decorations will come out and the tree will be lit. I usually did that on the Friday after Thanksgiving, but today I had the offer to spend a beautiful afternoon having lunch and wandering through some small, local shops with Denise. The tree can go up tomorrow. Oh, except that Mary Cay found a craft show for us to go to. That will be fun time with a good friend too. So Sunday…nope. My grandson Chapin is cooking dinner for the family and I wouldn’t miss that for anything. One of my granddaughters has a show this week and the other has one next week. I’m signed up to work three days at New Hope Ministries’ Christmas Blessing event. I’m not sure when…or even if…those decorations are going up.
I have an idea. Maybe, just maybe, these are the things that will actually help me find my lost Christmas spirit. It isn’t on television or arrive through the sound system at Target. A bit of it does come through my memories associated with the decorations I have at home, but sometimes those memories become bittersweet. I’m hoping that knowing there are people who want to spend time with me, people who have invited me to join them for special days or just to hang out, people who love me will help pull me up and out of a funk.
People as you are getting into the spirit this year, doing holiday preparations, and participating in activities, please remember that your words and actions count. You may not think it’s a big deal to call someone to see if they want to go shopping or stop by for coffee, but it can be the lifesaver you didn’t know they needed. You may think that the nasty remark meant nothing and won’t even be remembered, but to someone in a funk, someone suffering with depression, it can cut like a knife. If you aren’t into it by choice, fine. You don’t have to participate, but you also don’t have to be critical and demeaning of others trying to enjoy. When you decide to be the Bah Humbug! all over someone’s music, movie, book, decorations, or traditions, the message may be received as judgement on them, a criticism of them, a ridiculing of them. And if you are being the Bah Humbug! because you can’t find your spirit, call me. I promise to listen, do whatever I can to lend some from my coffers. Call your best friends, your sister, your brother, your pastor, or anyone you can trust to help you through what should be a joyous time but can also be a time filled with landmines for some.
No matter what holiday you celebrate (or choose not to celebrate) at this time of year, I have some wishes for you. I wish you joy. I wish you love. I wish you peace. I wish you contentment in all your days. And I wish you a happy, merry celebration of your faith and love this season.
*Title credit – lines from “We Need a Little Christmas”