The Context of Christmas
It’s almost Christmas and I just can’t wait, but I wasn’t always this way.
It was Christmas day. I was eleven, the youngest of five girls, wearing my red knit footed pajamas with the butt flap. In a moment of juvenile holiday inspiration, I stuffed a big pillow in my front and then put on a Santa hat with the white furry trim and the fuzzy poof at the tip. I taped some cotton balls to my face as Santa’s beard and went around chuckling, “Ho, ho, ho!” as everyone prepared for our traditional Christmas morning present opening. My capricious stepfather saw me and was not amused. “Fine,” he said. “If you want to play Santa, then you hand out the gifts.” It was a punishment. “What? No! That’s not what I… No, Daddy, you hand out the presents! You always give them out!” “Not this time, Sandy. You’re better dressed for it than I am. You do it.”
Wow. The party was over before it had begun. I pleaded a bit more, to no avail. Then, “screw’im,” I thought. So I passed out the presents and learned two things: he couldn’t beat me, and I hated Christmas.
As an adult on my own, I eventually stopped going home for the holiday. Stepdad had long since departed, but his scrooge effect remained. I disliked the pressures that accompanied Christmas, the traffic, shoppers, snow and frozen winds. It had become, for me, just an awful time of the year, in stark contradiction of the famous song.
Then one year, I pragmatically asked myself, “Why bother?”
Christmas was coming, regardless of how I felt, so, why bother wasting my energy and anxiety dreading it, when I could choose to celebrate and enjoy it? Could I change, and therefore transform Christmas? First, the gifts – Ugh! I determinedly turned all that around by appreciating that here was my opportunity to tell the people I loved that I cared deeply for them. Yay! I accepted the challenge to come up with great gifts. I always enjoyed the bookstore, so books were my easy go-to gift, but if I couldn’t find anything to purchase, I baked. I found a killer recipe for gingersnap raspberry sandwich cookies that, when I took them as hostess gifts to parties, never failed to garner several requests for the recipe. People wondered where I had bought them, and one person actually compelled me to explain how they could look so perfect if they were homemade! (I chose to view that as a compliment.)
Once I overcame my discomfort with Christmas shopping, I realized how horrible I was at receiving gifts. Often what I’m given just doesn’t live up to my dreams. Well, I sat myself down and gave myself a stern talking to. It was easier, now that I had already afforded myself the grace to enjoy gifting others. By acknowledging that joy, I realized that, expectations be damned, I simply needed to recognize the love that accompanied each present I received.
Removing the context for my emotional shutdown (Christmas at home) permitted me a fascinating break-through, and this understanding allowed me to help my husband through his intense and life-changing emotional crisis after nearly dying. For example, I supported his return to work, although I knew he was in no condition. Being on set was vital for him to prove that he was capable of recovering. He could only give them an hour each day – down from his usual 14, but not going back at all would have been far worse for him. He needed the context for his recovery, just as I needed to remove it for mine.
A wonderful thing happened once I taught myself to enjoy Christmas; it took on a new, wonderful personality. The love I invested in the presents I gave returned to me, compounded, and I suddenly had much more love surrounding me! Amazing right? No… that is the true meaning of Christmas.
So, in spite of all your troubles, or maybe because of them, I wish you all a Merry Christmas, in its original context of love and peace.