Last year I convinced myself that Christmas was going to suck, and it did. I had completely disconnected. I stayed in Fredericton. I worked the day away, avoiding the phone, ignored Facebook, and didn’t see a single person face-to-face the whole day. After three years of trying to get through a Christmas at home like nothing was different, I had hit a wall. I didn’t have enough pretend left in me. It was a shitty Christmas because that’s what I wanted it to be.
I’ve got this love/hate thing going on with Christmas. The season has a way of magnifying whatever is happening in your life. If you’re having a rough go, and you’re feeling down and alone nothing will kick you in the nuts harder than Christmas. On the flip side, if you’re smiling and filled with love and surrounded by happy, supportive people – well you’re decking the halls and fa la la a la’ing and every song on the radio is about you. That’s just what the holidays do. Reality is somewhere in the middle, not that it matters in this ultimate season of highs and lows.
This Christmas was going to be different. Not a god damn thing was going to keep me from making merry and keeping Christmas in my own way. I hauled out all the go-to’s. There was gingerbread men, eggnog, tree decorating, winter walks, turkey dinners, shopping sprees, night time drives to look at lights, hot chocolate, candy cane ice cream, advent calendars, Christmas Playlists and a million other things you see in every Hallmark Christmas movie. And you know what? It helped.
Just doing it helps. But you know what helps the most? Not trying to recreate the past. This Christmas was new. I didn’t hang old decorations. I didn’t listen to Kenny and Dolly or Jim Reeves. I didn’t take on the futile task of trying to recreate treasured moments from the past. It’s kind of impossible when the cast is down one regular. This season has been all about creating new moments and in time some of those will return year after year and become new traditions.
For months after Dad died I wouldn’t sit at his chair at the kitchen table. So, sitting where I always sat I was forced to stare at his empty seat. His absence was obvious. Everything looked the way it always did, only he wasn’t there. One day I just sat in his chair, and his absence wasn’t as obvious because I couldn’t see the spot where he used to be, plus my own perspective changed, and as I now looked at my empty chair I new everything had changed. It stopped being about his absence, and started being about my presence. The same thing applies to Christmas.
The most important difference though is I didn’t try to do it alone. In the moments it all seemed too much I was lucky enough to have someone spike my coffee and make me go to a Christmas Parade, and not judge me when an Old Spice display in WalMart almost brought me to tears. More than that I had someone with the patience to let me try to navigate my way through this landmine filled season. I can’t say I found the joy of this season again. It was given to me by someone special, and it’s been the best gift of the year. No yankee swaps.
So many people I’ve talked to these last few weeks struggle with the holidays – whether it’s because of death, divorce, depression, or just coping with the usual temptations of a season that’s built on icing sugar and shortening. I’m hardly an expert but here’s what I’ve been trying to do: create as many of those special moments as you can for those you love and let them do the same for you. The rest seems to take care of itself.