The big countdown to the holidays is here, with all the stress of finding the right gifts, wrapping them (I lost a pair of scissors, wrapped into a gift this year), getting everything done, decorating a tree, trying to bring family together, see friends, and sometimes having to come face to face with family members you have old or new grievances with. Even as adults, with all our childlike hopes, wishes, and needs laid bare, The holidays, whether Christmas or Hanukkah, can really put the heat on us, fray tempers and make some people dread the holidays. And while we fret or complain about our families, others are facing the holidays alone, which is infinitely harder.
With nine children, most of my holidays have been busy, love-filled, warm and loving, magical and fun. But not every Christmas looks like a Norman Rockwell Christmas card, and I easily remember the three hardest Christmases in my life. The first one came after my divorce. I had one child, moved to a distant, foreign city, and was alone with my five year old daughter, and on that first Christmas, I had to put her on a plane to spend our first Christmas post-divorce with her father, and I found myself in a new city, without friends or family, alone. It was lonely and tough. I spent the day reaching out to people I knew would be alone, mostly older people without families. The day ended with a warm feeling of community and having reached out to people who were deeply grateful that someone had remembered them.
Many years later, remarried, with nine children, the worst Christmas without question was three months after my son Nick had died. It was a brutally bleak time for us, but brought us even closer in the end. I organized a skating party for our family, and all of our friends with young children. It wasn’t easy but it remains a tender memory of a bittersweet time. And it came to me that Christmas to reach out to the homeless, cold and alone during Christmas. I filled a van with new sleeping bags and warm clothes and the night before Christmas eve, I drove around handing them out. that night changed my life, and reminded me how many people were in much worse shape than we were. I worked on the streets with the homeless for eleven years after that, which gave new meaning to my life, having lost a beloved son.
And Covid has added another layer of anxiety to our lives, many families have not seen each other for nearly two years now, and in some cases, beloved family members and friends have died. Last year was a deep learning experience for me. I married at 18, had my first child at 19, and went straight from my father’s home to my husband’s, and have never been alone again, even now I still have one daughter at home. But during the long lockdowns last year, I stayed in France and it was too dangerous to travel, and I found myself on Christmas last year, totally alone, 6,000 miles from my children, in an empty apartment. There was no voice, no sound, no Christmas carols, no shouts of delight on Christmas morning. I cant remember a lonelier day in my life than last Christmas, and with the time difference, I couldn’t even speak to my kids until 6 o’clock that night. But it was a deep lesson in gratitude and strength, in realizing how blessed I was in so many ways, and I survived Christmas and many months after far from my family. It will make me grateful for holidays with my family for many years. And it reminded me how many people spend the holidays alone for many, many years.
I read something recently that said “Christmas isn’t always what people expect, but it proves to be what we need.” I think that was so true. Spending Christmas entirely alone last year, without my children with me was a sharp reminder of how blessed I am.
So if Christmas is a challenge for you, not what you wish it were, and if your dreams aren’t shaping up quite right this year, there is always something to learn, and give and do for someone else. The lessons are hard sometimes, and solitude can be so painful, but the hard years are sometimes more meaningful than the easy ones. And the family members who are sometimes irritating, are a lesson and a blessing too. Christmas is a time for forgiveness, gratitude, and doing for others when we can. How many people do we all know who are sad and alone, and lonely, how many homeless people do we walk past every day?. And a touch, a smile, a moment spent, a call, a visit can make all the difference to someone alone, or even a stranger who may be desperate and in need. After my lockdown Christmas in France last year, I have deep respect for people who get through the holidays alone. It was one of the hardest days I have ever spent.
And even on the good years, we begin the holidays at -1, with my son Nick missing from our Christmas celebrations every year. But there is so much warmth and love and good will at our table and in our hearts, that in a way he has deepened Christmas for all of us, and made us grateful for the bond we share. Families are not always easy, but they are a great gift.
I read an article about Christmas after divorce, which is also a challenge. But even when a family has been divided, there is great love to share, and one is still a family whether separated or together. It is a time to be gentle if one can be, demonstrate as much forgiveness as one is able, and to cherish what we have.
Whether during the holidays, or at any other time, love is always the answer, whether your Great Aunt Tillie annoys you, or your Uncle Wilfred gets drunk at the table every year and is obnoxious, or your parents or children criticize you unfairly, or you’re in a marriage you hope to escape eventually, or have a disappointing girlfriend or boyfriend, or if you are entirely alone, —there is always some part of that that will bless you, if you can pour even a drop of love on the flames of what upsets you, it will surprise you and bless you in some way in the end. Kindness and gratitude go a long way, especially on the holidays, even if the turkey isn’t perfect, or if you are spending the day with the ‘turkeys’ who annoy you!!!
“When Love fills our hearts, we are regenerated and reborn. Our old life history with its twists and turns, happy and unhappy events, fades in the beauty of unconditional love.” And “We cannot find love, without unselfishness, meekness and integrity. Our love will be a bright flame to others, to warm cold hearts, brighten hope, renew faith, and be transformed and newborn ourselves.”
Love is always the answer, as much as we can muster, and if we can love enough, and be generous enough in heart and spirit, it will change and brighten our holidays, and those of everyone around us.
It’s a big challenge to meet, and a life lesson to learn. It’s a learning process for all of us, to remember that Christmas isn’t just about the gifts we give, but about the gift we are to someone else, which in turn transforms them into a gift to us. I always discover Christmas surprises, from people who touch me, when I least expect it.
I wish you such wonderful holidays, and that the days leading up to them will be stress and anxiety-free. I hope that there is something you can be grateful for, and that you feel loved and not alone. I wish you so many blessings and the gift of love in your heart. Have a wonderful week full of happy moments and surprises.
With so much love, Danielle