It starts the day after Halloween now: 24/7 Christmas carols, holiday displays and decorations in the stores, toy and gift ads at every turn, catalogs in the mailbox, cookie recipes on Pinterest, and the holiday specials on television. The season is in full swing before the pumpkins are put away.
And that’s all right with me. In fact, I say the earlier the better. I used to keep my tree up until February to wring as much out of the season as I could; I believe I only abandoned that practice when alerted to the potential fire hazard.
Why do I do this? Because the holiday season makes me feel good. From the lights to the pine-scented candles to repeated viewings of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (subsequent debriefs on bullying notwithstanding), the Christmas season wraps itself around me like a blanket of happy. I’m calmer, more content and more hopeful. And although those seeds were planted years ago, that state of mind was a process.
It started when I was young. Christmases back then harbored a sense of hope that eluded me the rest of the year. Although we didn’t get many presents, the holiday season offered a respite from the crippling shame and sadness that were the hallmarks of my youth.
During the holidays, life was OK, and often even better than OK. My fears, obsessions and self-loathing were put on hold for those few weeks, and I allowed myself to feel, however temporarily, how a “normal” girl might feel. I allowed myself to feel good.
Unfortunately the disappointment when that feeling evaporated post-holiday was often debilitating. I was convinced for many years that the letdown was a result of the inevitable elusive gift—the one that I could never quite identify, the one that would make me whole. Each year that I didn’t get it, the letdown returned.
Somewhere along the way, I realized that the elusive gift isn’t something tangible that can be unwrapped on Christmas Day. The gift is in learning to appreciate the holidays for what they really are, what they mean to us. In so doing, we learn to recognize that they are part of the journey, not the destination—a part of our particular faith’s journey, and a part of our own journey as well.
When my children were smaller, my husband and I spent a lot of time and energy on the holidays, wanting the kids to experience the magic of the season even though they were too young to understand the meaning behind it. I remember their excited faces on Christmas mornings as clearly as I remember my frustrated husband’s on Christmas Eves, standing over a dinosaur racetrack or kitchen set with eight different tools and no more patience.
At times I was conflicted, worried that the volume of gifts would preclude my children from ever appreciating the true meaning of the season. On some level I believed the only way to understand it was by not getting a lot of presents; that I was somehow denying them the true beauty of the season by filling it with stuff. I had to learn that there could be many paths, that this was their journey—no better and no worse than mine.
And it has brought them to now, when we no longer make the holidays for the kids, but rather with them. They’re involved in every aspect of the process these days, from decorating to baking cookies to shopping to wrapping, and even more so, to giving and delivering to others. They realize how good it feels to give—sometimes as good as it feels to receive, and sometimes even better.
The first time I hear John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over),” the first time I see A Charlie Brown Christmas, it begins for me all over again, even if it starts in October. The season gives me permission that I sometimes still can’t give myself to feel good, to appreciate all that I have and to feel hopeful about what lies ahead. In fact, if it were up to me, we’d still keep our tree up until February.
Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and wherever you are on your journey . . . safe travels.
Maggie Lamond Simone is an award-winning writer and mother of two living in Baldwinsville. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.