Merry What?

It’s December.  Thanksgiving is over and now the countdown to Christmas is ticking away.  I remember the excitement I had as a child as we removed the candy from the Snowman handing my Mother has made.  Everyday, one of us would  untie and remove  whatever sweet was attached and then count how many were left until Christmas.  Of course, I was counting the days until Santa arrived.

When I was older and on my own in Houston for the first time,  I looked forward to the Christmas holidays because I got to go “home” for a few days.  And, I was excited about the gifts I have picked out and purchased for my family with my own money.  There were Christmas parties and decorations all around. I attended my first singing Christmas tree performance.  There was so much to enjoy and  behold.

After I was first married, my husband and I had to figure out our own traditions.  We did Christmas stockings for each other.  And as we had our children, we got to watch their excitement.  My most memorable Christmas was probably when Terry played Santa at on of the local malls.  He so enjoyed visiting with the children and surprising a few of the adults when he called them by name, too.  Our children were excited by the lights and the hoopla, the Christmas programs and the fun.  They took part in searching for the perfect Santa ornament or figure to add to their Dad’s collection.  I watched as they struggled to keep the secret of what was in the package they had picked out just for me.  It was a wonderful time.

Then, death took a huge toll on my holiday excitement.  That Christmas in 2005, I picked out the perfect Santa figure, Santa kneeling at the Manger, and placed it on my husband’s grave site.  There was no headstone.  Just a metal marker and a Christmas wreath my mother had placed there.  I struggled just to make it through the holidays that year.  I wanted my kids to have moments of joy and to forget their sorrow for a bit.  We all tried so hard to just do the normal stuff.  But, there was no more normal for us.

Through the years, we struggled to find our new footing with the holidays.  We put up a tree that was as opposite from traditional as possible:  white with colored lights & purple boas instead of tinsel; orange, pink, lime green and purple ornaments with a large selection of flamingos included.  I would search out the best place to eat out and that would be our Christmas meal.  We spend time with family in Houston and also with my parents in Crowell.   We fell into a rhythm.

I still struggle with the holidays.  Emotionally, it’s still hard.  Now, thankfully, we are part of a blended family.  And while I love it, trying to blend family traditions can be daunting.  Our kids have their own families and in-laws to see over the holidays.  There are grand-parents  that would love a visit.  The sweets and goodies that are expected for holidays are different.  Gift giving is a big area of stress in any family.  How much do you spend?  What should you give? Should we just draw names to make it easier?  Do we open gifts on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day?

Materialism can and does get in the way of so much during the holidays.  I’ve been told over and over that if I keep the reason for Christmas in focus, the other stuff won’t matter so much.  And while I agree with the reasoning, I don’t always see that it works to remove all of the stresses that come with the holidays.  I really try to focus on the gift of Jesus Christ during the Christmas season.  And I have real peace and joy about that gift.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t remove family tension or sorrow completely.  There are people all around us that need to FEEL the loving embrace that represents the Christmas season.

So, I continue to wrestle with my emotions during this holiday season.   I wrestle because I want “Peace on Earth” to be a reality, yet even our own family struggles to keep peace at times.  I struggle to make each person feel special and loved and content throughout the holidays.  I tussle  with my personal desire to be the perfect wife, mom, step-mom, daughter and grandmother and failing at it over and over.  I strive to provide a safe and inviting haven for the Holidays to anyone that would need a place.  I grapple with my inclination to shut myself off from everything and everyone until after the first of the new year.

This is a time of year that can be extremely difficult for many.  Take the time to look around and notice those around you, not just the business of the season.  Notice the widow that is without a spouse to share the joys and who wants to participate in the festivities but just doesn’t know how to do it alone.   Notice the single parent struggling to provide just the bare necessities for the family during the holidays.  Notice that single person that has no family around and sees another lonely holiday as just another day.  The first Christmas I spent as a widow, there was always a place saved at church functions for me at a table with some other widowed ladies. They were older than me, but they “got it.”  They understood and reached out to me in a way that I so desperately needed.  Now is the time to reach out and show the love of Christmas to others.

nativity

Little Baby in the manger, I love you,
Lying there, to earth a stranger, I love you;
Wise men saw the star and answered, I love you,
Shepherds heard the angels saying, I love you.

Holidays

Holidays. Just say the word and for many of us it brings to mind parties and fun, trees and sparkly lights, decorating and packages, time with friends and family. But for some, it means bittersweet memories and tears, forced smiles and avoidance, noisy crowds and irritation. I talked to two different people today that mentioned difficult holiday emotions. For one, this is the first try at Thanksgiving and Christmas after losing a spouse. The other is facing the 3rd round of navigating the holiday season. Both are facing some difficult emotions.

The first holiday season after Terry died is a little blurry in my memories. Our loss was still just weeks old when we were faced with Thanksgiving. Christmas followed close behind while grief still had a stronghold on our lives. Thankfully, we were staying with a friend and spent the actual holidays with family, so decorating decisions were a non-issue. The following year we spent Thanksgiving in Oklahoma for a wrestling tournament. My only concession for Christmas decorations that year was a pre-lit, six inch tree.

In 2008, Gracie wanted to do Christmas right. I wasn’t sure how to face the memories, but I was determined to fulfill her request. I decided to stray from the traditional decor and go outside of the box. Every color my mother said wasn’t “Christmasy” was now on our tree. We bought pink, purple & lime green feather boas to use as garland. If it was hot pink, purple, orange or green, it was a decoration for our tree. We used flamingoes, glittered Santa’s and a few teddy bears from previous trees. The tree skirt was a hot pink sequined scarf. I even had two 4 foot tall stuffed flamingoes that stood guard. The only things banned from our tree was the traditional green and red. It was a new look at Christmas for us.

As the years have passed, more of the old ornaments from past years have been added. We make the cookies and peanut brittle and snacks that Terry loved. And we’ve added some new recipes. I’ve decided it’s okay to eat out for the holiday meals. Not having to worry about cooking the perfect meal relieved a lot of stress for all of us. We’ve kept a few things in our holiday traditions and added some new things. It works for us.

If you know someone that is facing the holiday season with more dread than joy, don’t avoid sharing your holiday excitement. Invite them to be a part of your holidays, whether it’s a party or a program at church or a cup of a special holiday coffee. And don’t be offended if your offers are refused. Keep offering. Because someday, they’ll be ready to share your excitement and joy. It will just look a little different on them.

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