I remember my childhood Christmases with a sense of wonder and delight. It wasn't just getting new toys, although that was nice! Rather it was more about the anticipation and excitement building over a course of weeks. It was the gathering of family and the sharing of meals. Playing with my cousins and getting hugs and kisses from my aunts and uncles.
I remember certain Christmases vividly. One year I was given an "Activity Box" filled with new coloring books, paper dolls, crayons, watercolors and a Spirograph. A perfect gift for those long cold days of Winter when it was too harsh to play outside. I spent hours with that box.
Another year I received one of the books of Lifesavers with all different flavors. It was fun to eat them one roll at a time, trying to make them last, trying (and failing) not to crunch them...
And then there was the year I got a doll with big eyes and my first "grown up gift" a decorative plague of a Cardinal from my neighbors, Ross and Daisy Norman. They told me the doll reminded them of me and they knew I loved animals. I remember their kindness to this day.
Thinking back, the cardinal print was probably a re-gift from my neighbors, but I was THRILLED with it! Growing up poor we didn't get a lot of gifts and we didn't celebrate gift giving any time other than at Christmas and on our birthday. We only got 1or 2 gifts at the most for birthdays and Christmas was very much "1 they want, 1 they need, 1 to wear, 1 to read" type of gifting. So we were especially grateful because they were a rarity and something to anticipate and cherish. Not like the overkill and influx of toys today... where every Happy Meal comes with a gift!
My most memorable Christmases were definitely those of childhood but several from my adulthood stand out.
There was the 1st Christmas after my father died. I was 15 years old and my older brother had moved out of the house that fall, leaving just my mother and me in the small home we had moved to once my father became incapacitated by the cancer that killed him. It was a sad year; we didn't even put up a tree, instead we strung some lights around the living room window and taped Christmas cards to the door. I don't remember how we spent the day. It's all just a fog actually. I just remember there was no joy that year.
In later years, my mother and I did put up a tree and put out the nativity scene adding funny animals such as plastic buffaloes after she had traveled to Texas. We also started celebrating as a family at my brother's house and drawing names to make it easier for my mother financially. She still insisted on at least making everyone cookies or candy if she wasn't allowed to purchase gifts for all of us.
Those years it became more about my nieces and nephews, seeing them grow up year to year and getting to reclaim a bit of my childhood as I played with their toys!
Then there was the Christmas after I had moved to New York. I was too poor to purchase a plane ticket or even a bus ticket. I was too proud to ask for money from the family so I made the excuse I had to work to avoid questions. I was the first one in my family to NOT come home for Christmas. It was a tearful day both in KY and NY. I spent it with my then boyfriend but even all the kisses and snuggles didn't make up for missing my family.
A few years later I celebrated Christmas in NY with a different boyfriend. It was very romantic. Going to Rockefeller Center to watch the skaters, kissing in the snow, both of us shivering and standing hugged up to share the body heat. Later going back to his apartment in Queens and eating soup from the Chinese restaurant.In the middle of the nigh I woke up, moving out from under the covers quietly so as not to wake him and watched the snow falling in the glow of streetlights... that was magical, a scene from Currier and Ives.
Then another boyfriend and another Christmas. This time I had flown home because my mother was in the hospital. When I came back, thinking Christmas was past, I walked into the apartment to find a tree decorated and topped with a homemade tinfoil star. And my heart melted. I later married that guy.
The years I was married were spent splitting time between Kentucky and Pennsylvania. Traveling by car, train, plane, in snow and even once a blizzard, between the two families. Several times we came down with the flu caught from the nephews and nieces.
But we managed to make some good memories those years. There were years of laughter and love and singing carols in church, eating too many cookies and huge family meals at the big table in Pennsylvania.
There was the year that he hid my engagement ring in a package of socks. It wasn't until I noticed the tear in the package that I got suspicious...
And the year that we decorated our tree, telling the story of every ornament, where we had collected them and the meaning behind them as we drank wine and played Christmas music. Later we sat in the light of the tree and held hands so very much in love. Lovely memories.
But toward the end of the marriage, Christmas just sucked.
2008: The hubster was out of work, severely depressed and our first dog, Molly, an olden Golden Retriever we had rescued, died a few days before Christmas. We had held out hope she would make it to the big day and get the only gift we were buying, a pig ear treat for her. We had agreed on no other presents and told the family we wouldn't be traveling. And then Molly let us know it was time. We said goodbye to our sweet girl...
That was the darkest Christmas of all.
Honestly it seemed after that there just weren't really any good Christmases.
The hubster got cancer, as did my brother, aunt, cousin and one of my best friends.
They all died, but the hubster lived.
But our marriage was broken by then. We went through the motions, we tried but we had been fighting the inevitable for too long.
The last year together we tried to make it festive. We exchanged gifts, we traveled to see family but it felt hollow to me...
The next year, we were separated. I had already gotten him a small gift and I took it to him.
It was awkward and painful for us both.
The last few years I have spent at my niece's home where the next set of kids, my "greats", are growing up and showing me once more the joy of the day. We eat and laugh and they shoot Nerf guns in the house and we take silly pictures to post on Facebook.
Somewhere along the way I lost sight of the wonder. I lost the joy of the Season. I actually lost my religion for awhile. I forgot about the magic; the improbable story of a child born to a poor couple, who had to stay in a barn because there was no room at the inn. I forgot that Christmas was about possibility, hope and most of all about a love greater than all of us.
This year I have put up my little tree. I have shopped for those I love giving them the best I can. I have watched my favorite shows: Rudolph, The Grinch, Charlie Brown, to remind me of those long ago Christmases when I believed with the wonder of a child. When I saw things with a child's eyes. When even the smallest gift was not taken for granted.
And I have prayed that I can find the wonder again. That I remain grateful for all the gifts I have received in my life, not just at Christmas.
And I realize I am grateful for the dark years as well. Hard as they were, sad as they were, missing loved ones, accepting the losses, all have taught me that the pain is there only because I loved so deeply.
Because that is the balance.
The light and the dark.
Perhaps that is why we hang the lights, to remind us in the darkest of days, there IS hope.
There is light. There is love.
Merry Christmas. May there be peace in your heart. May there be light for your journey. May the Christ Child remind you (and me) that there is Love to be had by all...
Be thankful for all the gifts, all the memories, all the love, past and present, and yes even future.
Merry Christmas to one and all.