I put up the little Christmas tree early this year. I arranged all of the Santa Clauses on top of a small bookcase that sits in front of the dining room window. I draped the holiday banner over the curtains. The snowman my sister Cheryl made for me became a part of a seasonal display in the kitchen. The nativity set, brought out for the first time in many years, dressed up a stand in the living room. As holiday cards arrived, I taped them onto and around the mirror that hangs over the circuit breaker box on the back wall.
As someone who has dealt with severe depression a few times in my life, I know to be careful. Holidays, like birthdays, can be dangerous times. Sadness and melancholy hide just under the surface of what looks like Christmas cheer, ready to take over if given half a chance. Sometimes a big build-up beforehand leads to an equally large let-down afterward.
I remember a couple childhood Christmases when I was thrown in to deep despair over a gift that was not exactly right. My poor mother, who struggled every year to make a good Christmas for all us, was forced to take time away from getting several small children dressed for church, to comfort me over tights that didn’t fit right, or the mistaken notion that “everybody else got better stuff than me!” As an adult, I’ve expected all holidays to rise to an impossibly high standard, and self-pity always wants to step in for any shortcomings.
At this time in my life, and the way the world is now, of course Christmas cannot measure up. My children are grown; even my grandchildren are all adults now, and scattered around the country. it’s impossible to be with all of them. In years when I have gone to spend the holiday with family, I left my own traditions behind, for the celebrations of others. And no matter what, there are loved ones missing. Even if we weren’t dealing with a pandemic that makes travel a scary proposition…even if there were a kennel to house my dogs….even if I could afford the time away…still, Christmas would not be the same.
Holidays accentuate any changes. We note who is missing around the table. This island, especially this year, seems to be treading lightly through the Christmas season, for fear that grief will take over. I am not in the center of many of these losses, and it seems somewhat presumptuous to bring them up. It wasn’t my child, after all, nor my spouse, nor my best friends who died this year. Still, I feel it. Many, I’ve known for years; some for all of their lives. And I care about the people, still here, who are newly dealing with the absences. Sadness radiates outward, and touches all of us.
So. I kept my expectations low, as I put out decorations. I wrote holiday cards and wrapped gifts at the dining room table, with the soft glow of tiny colored lights to help set the mood. I didn’t make plans, or expect anything at all. Every card and letter was a sweet surprise. Packages were welcomed with pleasure, and put around the base of the little tree.
I was thrilled when my cousin Bob stopped in for a visit on Christmas morning. I was overjoyed to get telephone calls from each of my daughters that day, and happy to hear from my grandchildren. I opened gifts in the middle of the day. The dogs and I went for a long walk. I spent a good part of the afternoon reading and giggling over a book my daughter gave me. I warmed up leftover pizza for my dinner. Later, I made popcorn and cocoa, and watched It’s a Wonderful Life. All in all, it was a lovely day.
I hope your Christmas was merry, too!