For a moment, I just sat and listened to the music. I remembered how my parents always tried to make every Christmas special although we were short of money. There was love and laughter, games and candles, a Christmas tree and lights and hugs and candy. There was the tree skirt that Mom had made out of bits of brightly colored felt in the shapes of dolls and teddy bears and reindeer and candy canes. There was the little "Lifesaver Man" ornament that I'd made in some sort of Sunday School activity. There was the spinning ornament that Mom and Dad were always telling us not to mess with. There was the Swedish Tea Ring and coffee cake and Christmas carols and a fire in the fireplace making our home seem like a warm and safe haven from the Sierra Nevada mountain winters. There was the time that I put up stockings full of little gifts and candies for my Mom and Dad. (That same year they forgot to put up stockings for the kids. I still remember overhearing THAT conversation!)
I remembered how much I enjoyed trying to find presents that people would like -- not just some generic thing because of an obligation. To this day, I can generally recite a list of reasons why I bought a certain gift for a certain person. (Of course, sometimes the reason isn't much more than "I thought this was cool and hoped you would too!" but hey, we all have our blind spots.)
Somewhere along the way, I lost all of this. I don't know when or how, but it was something very precious to me and it had slipped away and I had barely noticed until now, with the Choir and the Chipmunks and Mel Tormé and Bing Crosby playing in the background.
(No, they weren't playing all at once. That wouldn't be emotional -- just frightening.)
At some point, Christmas became an obligation and not a celebration. It got to be about *having* to buy things for people, and having to decorate the house, and put up lights and take them down and ... hell ... don't we all have enough obligations in our life? With Christmas advertising starting before Halloween was even over, I'd somehow gotten caught up in the commercialization of the holiday until it became more of a job than anything else.
For me, it was a choice. I could choose to make my own Christmas and make it a joyful celebration of love and life and friends and family and all the wonderful things that the year has brought (as well as memories of other happy years), or I could choose to see only the marketing hype and let that dictate my feelings about the season. For the past several years, I'd chosen the latter and had hidden away, wishing it was all over.
I don't know why, but this year I wanted that precious thing back. I wanted the joy of trying to find fun things that my family would enjoy receiving and that I would enjoy giving. I wanted to see my Dad enjoying the decorations and choosing to take his afternoon naps on the couch in front of the Christmas tree instead of on the easy chair in the kitchen. (And if you knew my Dad, you'd know how bloody hard it is to get him to nap anywhere but that chair!) I wanted my little nephew to see some of the ornaments that his Daddy and I had made when we were children. I wanted a little of that childhood joy back in my life, and so I made my choice: to make it a celebration of friends and family, of warmth and plenty. With that choice, it's also a time to grieve over friends and family members lost in the last year and be grateful for any time with the ones who remain.
All I know is that this year, for me, I choose Christmas as I make it: a celebration of all things, good and bad, in the past year with hopes for the future.
This year, I'm remembering what Christmas is all about:
No, wait. I mean love and joy and peace on Earth. Yeah, that's it. I hope you're all enjoying or at least tolerating this crazy season.