Most will agree. The Christmas season is the merriest of times. But how does one make merry when one faces the biggest holiday of the year dealing with challenges – like serious health issues, or the loss of a loved one or relationship? Or being away from home?
Well, I asked you, my readers, about how you handled a good bad Christmas. I’ll start with a poem from my Aunt Mildred:
You see so many positive things that you want to share with the world.
Trees, wildflowers, animals,
Birds, the blue sky, clouds,
Sun, moon, stars.
You’ll notice, like you, they all have their changes, but they know
Eventually they’ll bring smiles to people, even at their darkest hour.
That’s when they shine their brightest.
A couple of decades ago, my good friend Heather Mastromattei received the kind of news no parent wants to receive, and just before Christmas:
On Friday, December 13th at 10:30 a.m. our GP called to say that the MRI of my 11-year-old daughter confirmed a brain tumour and hence began a journey of hurry up and wait. The next few days were a whirlwind of appointments and tests and confusing messages of what was going to happen next. On December 18th the neurosurgeon said to go home, enjoy Christmas. He assured us he would take care of everything right after the holidays. At that time our kids were 11, 9 and 5. I couldn’t care less about Christmas – I wanted it out of the way so we could get on with what needed to be done. But three little faces very much wanted Christmas and the comfort of our traditions.
My sister and her husband showed up at the door on Saturday morning and dragged us through the next 48 hours. It came up in the afternoon that we didn’t have a Christmas tree which sent me into panic mode. “No problem,” said my sister and off we went to a tree farm in Ilderton to cut down our own tree. It was raining and mud galore – so much so that vehicles were getting stuck in it. My husband got covered in mud trying to push a car out. I just wanted to go home and my mood was becoming very transparent to my children. As though on cue, my brother-in-law started singing “Joy to the World!” loudly, as Clark Griswold did in Christmas Vacation. That got us all laughing and somehow that tree transformed from pathetic to perfect. At home, after washing off the mud in the driveway, my sister helped the kids decorate the tree while I went to buy Christmas presents. Naturally, we all watched Christmas Vacation, eating dinner that evening, as a rare treat, in front of the TV. Three beautiful beaming faces savoured this new pre-Christmas run-up and the fun that these unexpected visitors brought.
My daughter’s health issues have been extremely challenging, but I’m happy to say she is a brain tumour survivor. While I wouldn’t want to live it again – it was, at the time, the worst Christmas ever – yet as I reflect on it, it was one of the best.
From fellow writer Richard Campbell, co-author of Writing Your Legacy:
Christmas 2007: I’m in Vancouver. For the first time in my 55 years, I’m spending Christmas day alone. Until this past spring I would never have believed it could happen. Maybe it’s something everyone needs to experience, just the once. It gives me great pause to realize how isolated I am. This journey would be so much more worthy if shared with a loved one.
I haven’t heard from many people – friends and family back east. How strange, all of this. Hours ago I had my Christmas dinner. A club sandwich washed down by two beers. I had walked in the rain looking for a restaurant. Some were open, but they looked too formal, with tables for two. I finally decided on Gerard’s, the Sutton Place Hotel’s own lounge. I found myself tucked away in a cul-de-sac where I could disappear into the muted, dark mahogany ambience. A grand piano echoed the plaintive sounds of Christmas songs: “I’ll be home for Christmas.” But not this year. It’s tempting to just go home, complete the unraveled bindings (collapsed marriage), toss them into the Atlantic, pack up and return here.
I will get back up and one day celebrate Christmas the right way – a new home – a new life – a better me. For now, I will bide my time and heal. That starts today.
From Kathie Wolcott, good friend and Habitat for Humanity team leader for our Philippine build March 2015:
Christmas 2012: After 31.5 years of marriage, my family is not the same. I made a decision to live as a single woman, having left my marriage several months ago. This will be the first Christmas not celebrating as “family”. How do I make this work?
My children are grown adults and my grandchildren too young to know the difference, yet there still looms the fact that this year will come with painful memories of Christmas past. I decided to take the pressure off of everyone and consciously create new traditions. As the “new family” we go to the racetrack the week before Christmas, to avoid the hectic pace of Christmas. We eat French fries, pizza. Drink beer and wine in plastic glasses. Everyone runs outside in the winter air to watch the “ponies” round the corner for each race. We squeal with delight when we win – even if only $3!
Since then, we continue to enjoy the racetrack the week before Christmas. We’ve expanded our tradition to a family/friend “open house” at my oldest daughter’s on Christmas Eve.
It doesn’t matter when you celebrate Christmas. It is not the day, nor the presents, it’s the gift of “time”. Being together is what’s most important. The only gift I ever asked my kids for was the gift of “peace and harmony”. In 2012 I got my gift, and it continues today.
From my daughter, Randelle, now in Vancouver:
I’ve never had a bad Christmas. Something about Christmas makes me happy no matter what’s going on in my life. The decorations, cheer, cold weather, holidays, family and friends – what’s there not to like?
One that stands out most in my life is my Christmas spent in Melbourne, Australia. I volunteered to work on Christmas day because I wanted to give colleagues who had family and friends nearby the opportunity to share it with the people they loved. My boyfriend was away in Sydney because his family came to visit. My Italian roommates left to spend their holiday road-tripping The Great Ocean Road. I remember feeling alone, but I wasn’t particularly sad about it. I was happy to be travelling. I was happy to work and be around strangers, full of cheer celebrating the day. Most of the customers were on vacation, visiting from elsewhere, so their happiness brightened my day.
I did get to Skype with the famjam before I left for my shift. I remember we couldn’t get the sound to work properly – I could hear them and they couldn’t hear me, or vice versa. That one minute of Skype was enough to feel like I was part of their day.
Christmas to me is exciting. It’s a day with frills, but when you don’t have plans, or have to work, you just have to treat it like an ordinary day. Perhaps the goal should be to make every day a little more like Christmas and take more time for the ones you love.
From my fiancé B:
My first Christmas away from family was the Christmas of 1990. I worked at the Spectrum in Philadelphia then and had to work Christmas day because Disney was moving in. I was invited to dinner on Christmas eve at the home of my roommate’s fiancé. I was overwhelmed by how they welcomed me into their celebrations.
This family had spent the day delivering presents to underprivileged children and I’d never known anyone to do this. They had been doing this for years and I was quite taken by how they wanted to do good for others because they were so thankful for what they had.
The father was gregarious and gruff, a large personality, yet when they shared a story about delivering presents he got emotional, teary. It was surprising.
Since then, I’ve often been away from family at Christmas and spent them with many great people. But that first Christmas was special because it taught me how to give back and be thankful for what I have, no matter where I am.
Whatever obstacles, big or small, the world has thrown at you this year, may you be gracious in climbing over them. May you fully enjoy Christmas 2015, whether you find yourself alone, with family, with friends, or even with people you’ve just been lucky enough to meet!
Website picture is of my granddaughter Simone when she was scared of the Big Guy. Photo credit Jetanne DiCola.
I’ve never had a good Christmas since my husband died. This will be our third Christmas without him. It was his favorite holiday.
I was the little Jewish girl who looked out her living room window on December 25th at all the lights and trees inside and wished I could be part of that magical day, as I imagined it.
When I met my husband he had two children and we had Christmas with them (on Boxing Day). It was stressful hiding presents and keeping the fire of Santa’s extraordinary accomplishments on that one night of the year alive for them. Then we got married and had our daughter – more presents and stress. But on Christmas morning as we gathered around the tree and watched the kids open their presents it was magical. And I was grateful to have a family to share it with.
The first year after my husband died, my daughters decided it would be too difficult ‘for them’ to be part of his family’s holiday gathering (our annual tradition to go there with their big family) so the girls didn’t come (I have a stepson and he and his wife lived in BC at the time so didn’t come because of the cost, and usually didn’t come). My husband’s family was amazing that year, working hard to make it a wonderful day for me. Somehow I got through it. Last year was easier but still not wonderful. This year I feel like I want to get over the day so I can go on with my life.
My biggest lesson after my husband died was that not everyone has a happy holiday. Many are left alone after death takes loved ones from them. As we get older there are less loved ones around the table. Some people don’t have family. Some parents divorce and are no longer welcome at their spouse’s gathering where they always celebrated. It can indeed by a happy occasion, but for many it’s sad. It’s a lesson I’ve learned. Not happy but realistic. But I am forever thankful for his family and how they embraced me when I met him and continue to keep me tight into their fold. For that I am truly blessed even if the magic has left my heart.