It’s Christmas week, and I know how exciting and fun the holidays can be—-and also how difficult, lonely, and challenging they can be. No one to be with, not enough money, alone in a new city, or at home with a family you don’t get along with, or in the midst of a divorce, just after a break up, or after you lose a loved one. The holidays are not as easy and simple as they look on Christmas cards, or in the movies. It’s a time when we are acutely aware of whatever is missing in our lives, or whatever is difficult. I’ve had my share of difficult Christmases too, a long time ago, when I was divorced, and barely three months after my son Nick died at 19. That was a brutal year. Oddly, I worked harder on making Christmas special for my family in the hard years, than in the easy ones. And sometimes those Christmases turned out the best—the ones I expected to be terrible, and then they weren’t. Trying to cheer up my children after Nick died, I gave a skating party that year for my friends and their children. It didn’t bring Nick back, but it was a warm, loving event that became a tradition we loved every year, until all my kids left for college and everyone else’s kids grew up too, and we stopped doing it. But it was a lovely time of families joining each other during the holidays. We’ve all had our tough years, they’re part of life.
We’ve always been about twenty or more, at our holiday table, for dinner on Christmas eve, they’ve always been loud, happy, fun events, with a visit from Santa during dinner. it’s a grown up, dressed up event, and on Christmas night, the next day, we have Christmas dinner with the whole family and all the children in the family, it’s more informal, and really a fun night. Five years ago, my ex husband John (whom we spent all holidays with even when we were no longer married) had recently died, and all my older children went to their in laws for the holidays, and instead of 20 at the table, and John being elegant and jovial and loving among us, we were going to be the 5 younger children and me for dinner on both nights: 6 of us, not twenty, no older kids, and no John. It was a radical change, and a sad time we were all wrestling with, and there was no way to pretend that it was going to be the same, or even a happy event, and we were all dreading it. So I decided to really turn it upside down, and told my 5 younger kids, in their early 20s, that they could do Christmas however they wanted that year. We could get dressed up, as we always did, and have a serious formal dinner, or wear blue jeans and eat pizza, or no dinner, invite friends or not, go to the movies, or go bowling, or leave town together—-if it was going to be different, I invited them to make it as different as they wanted. We didn’t have to please anyone but ourselves and each other. After discussing it among themselves, they decided they still wanted to get dressed up and stay at home, still go to mass on Christmas eve, and no one felt up to having friends over, but they wanted to play games at dinner, and we collected a bunch of ridiculous party games, including the White Elephant game, where everyone brings a gift of some kind, you don’t know who brought it, and you take turns and randomly pick a gift. If someone else likes the gift, they can steal it 3 times, and after that you’re safe, if you like the gift it’s yours. Let me tell you, it was ridiculous, the gifts were funny, everyone stole everything from everyone else, my youngest son flatly refused to give up his Chewbacca (from Star Wars) back pack, which he said he was going to wear to the office. We were loud and silly, had fun, we played lots of games, and cuddled up together and watched movies afterwards, and ate popcorn. Somehow just being together worked, we didn’t have to ‘behave’, and we all missed John terribly, but the love and laughter between us got us through the evening, and it was one of our sweetest holidays. I still have the pink ballet tutu that I stole from two of my daughters during the white elephant game. Sometimes you just have to make the best of what is, when things are different or not the way you hoped, like watching all your favorite movies on TV or DVD if you’re alone.
And I know it’s hard to be alone during the holidays. I hope that you can be with your family, or with friends, or people you like, or bring joy to someone else. And if Christmas isn’t quite the way you want it to be this year, I hope that you get through it peacefully, and that it will be better next year. Life changes, it flows, it gets better, and worse and better again, and everything does not depend on how great your Christmas is. I hope it will be a good one, even a great one, and if it is a small one this year, I hope that you can cherish it, and enjoy it anyway. I send you all my good thoughts, and thanks and love on this holiday, whatever your holidays, and I wish you a beautiful new year!!
with all my love, Danielle