This time of year means different things, depending on the person and their situation. My family focused on the religious aspect growing up. My parents wanted my sister and me to concentrate on Christmas Mass, and so we opened gifts Christmas Eve.
Later, with my own family, we changed that tradition to Midnight Mass Christmas Eve and opened presents on Christmas Day.
In later years, after the loss of my husband and with both sons out on their own, my daughter and I struggled to keep traditions. They brought a mixed set of emotions. The first year after my husband passed away, I waited too long to buy a tree. Not a single lot had a tree I could afford. I brought three accent trees home from the flower shop. They weren’t Christmas trees, more of a bonsai Sequoia. We laughed every time we looked at them, turning our melancholy joyful.
After my daughter married and left home, Christmas became another holiday to endure with memories of what was. After my husband’s passing, we stopped the big family gatherings, the gift giving, and almost all the traditions. They were too painful those first few years.
I eventually remarried. My daughter and sons had families of their own and their own traditions. We still yearn for those remarkable Christmases of the past, those big joyous celebrations with twenty people for dinner, a whole department store wrapped under the tree, grandparents drinking coffee and watching the kids with their presents. Perhaps my children can recapture some of that with their families.
My holidays are much quieter, simpler, particularly Christmas. We exchange phone calls rather than gifts. I spend more time reflecting, meditating, praying. I am thankful for my husband and our quiet celebrations. Life changes and moves on.
My husband and I will share dinner with close friends and their family rather than try a large gathering with my family since snowy, icy roads, and long distances, prevent travel at Christmas. We did manage to all gather in my hometown this past Thanksgiving for the first time in ten years. With luck, it won’t be ten years before the next gathering, holiday or not.
I am acutely aware of how precious those times are. My parents won’t be with us much longer. My dad is eighty-seven, and my mother is eighty-two. My children are in their middle ages, and I’m counting decades I thought were a lot further away.
However, putting those thoughts aside, at the moment, snow is falling outside, covering everything in white. The fire is on, Christmas Carols are playing, a cup of coffee sets on the table next to me. My husband and I will put up our tree this afternoon even though no one will see it except us. We plan on a special Christmas Eve dinner for the two of us. I’ll attend Mass Christmas day alone. There will be the phone calls, the good wishes, and photos.
Melancholy doesn’t rule the season even though it does promote reminiscing. Contentment is the word I would choose, a slowing down from the hectic former years, a quiet time for reflection and praise-giving for past blessings, current blessings, and future blessings.
I hope your season is filled with peace and joy however you spend the holidays. If you are alone, my prayers are with you. Remember, we are never really alone. God is there in every situation, every season, every holiday.