I’m on track for an Elvis style Christmas this year…, “blue, blue” that is. Not that I’m suffering from depression, or ‘”cryin’ all the time,” but I am definitely noticing a sentimental funk weaving itself in amongst my Holy Day preparations. It’s probably because this will be only our second Christmas without our oldest daughter in the fold.
Building Their Own Traditions
She’s been married for eight years now, and for the first six years, her family drove down from Minnesota to join in our festivities. Our Cape Cod was a crowded mess of holiday happiness, with this matriarch quite satisfied with all she surveyed. When the third child joined their family last November, the Christmas traveling no longer made sense. Besides the realization that driving twelve hours with a four-year-old, two-year-old, and a newborn would have been a nightmare, we also had to face the fact that this was no longer a practical option for them.
When my children were young, I never wanted to take them anywhere on Christmas day. My mom lived only four hours away, but still, I held my ground. We went to Mass together as a family, and came home to enjoy a peaceful day of present-opening, followed by our Christmas feast. I did not want to make it a day of stressful rushing around, but rather, a peaceful celebration, with new, Catholic holiday traditions, in our own, little house. I would expect my own daughter to long for the same things! It truly was the perfect time for them to begin building their own traditions, by making their own Advent wreath, and setting up and decorating their own tree. It makes faultlessly logical sense to me, but melancholic nostalgia denies logic.
I survived last Christmas fairly well. My middle daughter and her husband had a six-month-old foster son, and that distracted me sufficiently from the missing participants. This year, that foster child will be spending Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with his birth mother and grandmother, in an ongoing effort at reunification. He’s been part of our family since he was two days old, and we love him dearly. We’re hopeful for a smooth transition with the birth family, and praying for blessings all around, but we can’t help but suffer from the impending loss.
Thoughts of loss now seem to be a major component of my personal Advent theme. Recently we dragged out the Christmas boxes and commenced the annual decking of the halls. The house was filled with the lively activity and noise of the middle and youngest daughters, with a son-in-law, a boyfriend, and the aforementioned foster son (doing his level best to wreck the tree before we even had the ornaments in place!). It was a lovely and tiring day.
Today, however, was a horse of a different color. I half-heartedly finished decorating the tree, with my usual, breakable baubles, knowing that our little guy will not be back on Christmas Day. The tree looked great with my final touches, but my face was a mess. I’d rather have a sparse tree, with our busy little wrecking ball here with us! Afterwards, I dug through my storage boxes, searching for the other things that I usually put out for the holiday, and suddenly I was seeing, with every item I handled, visions of Christmases past. There were all of the “baby’s first Christmas” ornaments, and the hand-made ones that my children made when they were young, with photos of their sweet faces on display. What about those adorable craft-foam & button Christmas trees, and the string snowmen we made as table décor when I was an American Heritage Girls unit leader? We must have those adorning the dining room shelves!
As I dug further into the box, I came across the plethora of crocheted decorations made by my mother-in-law, who died ten years ago this November. There’re even a few handicrafts that I managed to bring to life years ago, including the Santa doorknob hanging that one of my cats constantly pulled off onto the floor, several times a day. I had to have her put down last year, at the age of fourteen. She was a strange, yet entertaining feline, and she had joined our family way back in September of 1999, just five days after I’d tragically lost my best friend to suicide. As I touched each item, turning them over in my hands, the memories gathered round me like forlorn phantoms, dragging me into a well of sadness. With the heartache causing my vision to blur, it suddenly hit me: when moms/grandmas decide that it’s too much trouble to decorate for the holidays, it’s not because it’s too labor intensive, it’s because it leads to a tearful yearning of days gone by!
Making the Most of Christmas
I always used to wonder how anyone could ever get tired of dragging out the Christmas decorations and setting up the tree. That was never going to happen to me, I’d boast. I promised I’d be setting up my modest outdoor light display until the day I died, and dragging the Christmas ornaments out of the attic with my final breath. Now I wonder, can I go on sifting through this stuff, year after year? When it’s just my husband and I, and the kids and grandkids are spending Christmas with their in-laws, will I want to take that annual trip down memory lane? After today’s experience, I’m not so sure anymore.
One thing I am sure of though, is this—sorting through this experience is a good way for me to get a handle on what the season is all about. Advent is a time of preparation, waiting and watching for our Savior. Yes, he has already come into the world, over two thousand years ago, but in December, the Church wisely urges us to prepare our hearts to receive him again. We simplify, we let go, we focus on living in God’s will, and when Christ comes to us on Christmas, we do as his Blessed Mother did, throughout his life here on earth—we ponder the puzzling truths quietly in our hearts, so that every day becomes a little Christmas, and every day he is born in us anew.
With these thoughts in mind, I sat down to supper with my husband and youngest daughter. Our ragged copies of daily, Advent dinner prayers are just one more of the holdouts from the early days. They are dog-eared and sport occasional food stains, but we still use them. This was today’s prayer: “Lord, you loved us enough to become one of us. You are a humble God who visits your people. Holding onto nothing, may we learn this season to freely share our gifts.” Holding onto nothing, it said, speaking to my heart quite clearly. I was taken by surprise, as I often am by such a clear and direct message. I imagined the prayer continuing, “Let go of the sadness, of things beyond your control, and embrace the coming joy.” This, I realized, is what pure and holy love does. It doesn’t hold on, it doesn’t regret, it doesn’t live in the past. It takes each day, and makes the most of it, understanding that God’s Will is the only path to a life fulfilled. Suddenly, I feel like Scrooge, after the overnight visits of his ghosts. “What day is it, do I still have time?” I do, of course, and I intend the make the most of it!