December holidays are a mixed bag of emotions for me. Sometimes I feel surprise, joy, melancholy, regret, loss, anticipation, curiosity, and more. It’s complicated.
My children are all in their twenties and live in Chicago where they are in various stages of “the launch.” This year my wife, Mary, suggested we do something different for Christmas. I felt resistance bubbling up as I listened to her proposal. “Let’s give the kids all of the ornaments we’ve been collecting for the past twenty-nine years and let them hang them on their own Christmas Trees.”
I pictured our sad Christmas Tree without the 80 ornaments we’d given to our children over the years. I thought about how much I would miss the holiday squabbles as they attempted to out maneuver each other for the choicest pieces of hanging real estate on the tree. Kara arranged her choir of angels, each placed in chronological order of her receiving them. Mark tried to get to the strongest branches with the most hanging space for ornaments we’d given him that weighed in the pounds and not ounces. Stephanie hung a mish mash of mismatched ornaments that Hallmark was always starting and then ending so we’d have to try another product.
My Christmas tradition - Gone. Ended. Over. “Maybe we should wait another year before we give them all away,” I suggested.
Ever practical, Mary said, “The kids won’t be home until December 26, they’ll get to look at their ornaments for about a day and then they’ll be gone. Besides I’ve already texted them the idea and they all love it.”
Foiled again by reason and technology!
I felt a bit melancholy as I considered this change that wasn’t life altering but it did alter the Christmas celebration I was accustomed to for the past couple of decades. What usually happens to me is that one melancholy thought brings another – like a melancholy streak! I remembered that my mother died twelve years ago on the day we were decorating the Christmas tree. I thought about all the years I missed being with family while I lived in Italy and Zimbabwe. I was starting to feel pretty sorry for myself. I hate to admit that I was ever so slightly enjoying the melancholy mood I was creating. But I also knew that eventually it would take me to a darker place. I listened to Mariah Carey singing, “All I want for Christmas is you,” and felt a little better!
What other experiences could I remember? At Thanksgiving this year, our celebration
was in Chicago and not at our family home and we cooked the turkey and the side dishes at the Airbnb apartment we rented. Mark and Stephanie brought their significant others with them to the feast and that change turned out to be a lot of fun. I interrogated everyone after we sat down to the Thanksgiving feast with a whole series of questions which created a little anxiety in the newbies and eye rolls from the family. “While we eat, I will be asking each of you a question that you must answer,” I said.
“What was your proudest moment this year?” I started with Kara who answered.
“What was the most creative thing you did this year?” I asked Mark’s girlfriend.
“What was the most challenging thing that happened this year?” I asked Mary.
And the questions continued until everyone had a chance to answer and we all learned something about each other. It was a new thing, in a new place, with new people and we created new memories. I smiled thinking about that moment and how cleverly I pried intel out of everyone at the table.
I thought about Christmas tree shopping the next day watching Kara and Mark decorate the tree in their apartment. I wasn’t disappointed. The Christmas squabbles continued even with a new tree, in a new space, in Chicago. Some traditions survive. And as Mary and I decorated our tree at home this year it was fun to remember stories about Christmases past. There was a lot more to smile about now.
Each experience is different. Every year it is different. For ten Christmases I wasn’t even in the country – far away from family and friends. Yet in the melancholy of the moment I could find a spirit of peace that gave depth and meaning to the celebration even though in Italy the children expected a witch, Le Befana, to bring the toys and in Zimbabwe, the temperature rose to over 100 and there was little to remind me of the traditions at home. I found peace not in Santa, or the lights and present but in people who reached out to me and people I was able to reach out to, the peace came in the connection of mutual kindness, generosity, and love.
Life is always changing; people change, circumstances change, and the suffering we experience most often comes when we cling to the belief that we can control the way everything should be, the way it is supposed to be or the way it was last year. Peace dawns in our minds the moment we relinquish the irrational belief that we can control reality.
My wish and hope for you this year is that whatever your circumstance or wherever life leads you, you will experience a deep peace in offering your inner light to each one who comes to you. Then you will begin to experience the miracle the season promises.