Christmas. Just the word evokes so many memories. Good ones, sad ones, the excitement of Christmas as a child. Maybe more than any other, it is a word that evokes something different for each of us. The Christmas cards and snow scenes look the same, but the memories don’t. There are as many interpretations of the holidays as there are people in the world. For some, it was a magical time in their childhood and youth, and still is as adults. For others, it was bitterly disappointing as children, but has improved. For some it is the loneliest time of the year, and for others the time they most look forward to, when their family gets together. A friend of mine remarried several years ago, she had children and so did her new husband, but their traditions were completely different, she had always overdone Christmas with lots of fun and decorations, their new family’s style was more austere, with few gifts and almost no decorations. They tried to compromise and find a middle ground on their first Christmas together, and she called me to report that all the children, his and hers, had wound up crying on Christmas Day, as one of them said in a wail, “Can’t we have a NORMAL Christmas?” A “Normal” Christmas, or holiday, is different to each of us. Even in the same family, people have different ideas about how it should be.
I didn’t have a particularly warm childhood, and grew up alone with my very rigid, somewhat severe German father, but Christmas was ‘his thing’. He loved it, and he made Christmas wonderful for me. The house was decorated, he gave Christmas parties for his friends, gifts were almost always what I’d hoped for. A great uncle spoiled me every year with things I didn’t need, but loved. (A log cabin for our garden one year. And a red nightgown set one year with gold stars on it, which I thought was incredibly glamourous at 7. I don’t own anything nearly as fancy now!!). Christmas was a warm and happy time in my childhood, and I have tried to make it that way for my kids too. And I think they all love Christmas. When they were little, each child had a tiny Christmas tree in their room, which they could decorate as they wished, and a big one in the hall, which we all decorated together, and even one downstairs. Christmas has always been a big event at our house, and still is. I look forward to it all year. Gingerbread houses, brownies we made for friends and teachers and delivered in bright holiday tins. Christmas Eve dinner together, and again on Christmas Day. A children’s church service we went to, and still do, on Christmas Eve. We try to remember the traditions and what they mean, and not just focus on the gifts!! And even now, with my adult children spread out in different cities, I am very grateful that everyone comes home. And I was fortunate that the children’s father shared my love for Christmas, and enjoyed it as much as the children and I did. (I have friends who hate the holidays with a passion, which always seems sad, but usually bad holidays in their youth got them off to a bad start). And yes, it can be a commercial event, but underneath all that are the good feelings and tender moments, and the gathering of people one loves.
I still write my children letters from Santa, for them to find on Christmas morning, telling them how terrific they are, how proud ‘Santa’ is of them, and could they keep their rooms just a teeny weeny bit neater next year. It’s kind of a joke by now, but everyone looks for their letters from Santa on Christmas morning. And last year they wrote me one—-turnabout is fair play!!! We still leave out carrots and salt for the reindeer, and cookies and milk for Santa, even now, and magically all of it is gone in the morning when we wake up!!!
But along with the joys are the inevitable bittersweet moments too, the people who are missing and no longer with us, the plans that have gone awry, the dreams that didn’t come true. In some cases, the family that has dispersed. It’s a time for joy for some, but for loneliness too. The pain of being alone over the holidays can be agonizingly acute. And even in families, or big gatherings, one can sometimes feel desperately alone. The holidays are not entirely easy for anyone, and it’s a stressful time of year, filled with too much to do, and events, our own expectations, and others’ expectations of us.
My wish for all, whatever your holidays, is that they are happy ones. I went to a dinner party in Paris that turned out to be a gathering of friends and family on the first day of Hanukkah. The candles were lit and a traditional song was sung in Hebrew. It was beautiful and touching as the children gathered around. Whatever your traditions or beliefs, or even lack of them, I hope that these holidays bring you some kind of joy, some tender moments and peace. Sometimes the holidays we least expect to turn out well surprise us, and turn out to be special times, far more than we hoped. I hope that these holidays exceed your hopes and dreams, and that good surprises will come your way. My thoughts are with you, and I wish you very, very special holidays.