She Says – Christmas

Miracle on 34th Street – the 1994 version with Richard Attenborough as Kris Kringle and Mara Wilson as young Susan – just ended. There are mixed emotions raging a battle within me this evening, as happens every time I watch this or the original black & white version of 1947 with Natalie Wood as Susan. The mixed emotions surface again and again as I watch all the oldies but goodies – White Christmas, The Bishop’s Wife, and The Bells of St. Mary’s. Yet every year I continue to expose myself and my feelings to this inner fight. It has become a yearly ritual. Rituals can be important. Apparently this one is to me, in a twisted fashion.

As I begin to write this, there are only eight more sleeps till Christmas Eve. Mike and I have decided that Christmas – what it means to each of us – shall be the next topic of our He Says/She Says blog post. I wasn’t certain if I really wanted this to be our discussion. So much wars inside me at this time of year – the past, the present and the future – all vying for attention, yet not one of them winning out in the end. That reason alone is why I likely should do this post.

The past, for me, is filled with tradition. My youth and my family intertwine in my memory to create a rich tapestry of festivities and food, fun and fondness.  The childhood I remember is lush with memories. Traditions of all kinds were standard fare for our family. We were poor, yet we did not lack for the joys of being together. Gathering at this time of year was precious. From great grandparents right on down to the youngest of the clan, we would all converge on my grandparent’s home. Each family brought some food to share. Always an amazing meal would be created by this joint sharing of what each had, and lovingly prepared and cooked in my grandparents’ kitchen by the women – though it was my grandfather who basted the turkey to perfection in ceremonial fashion. Games such as Cribbage, Rumoli and Dominoes were played – all at the big round dining table before and after the dinner. Someone would tap out a note or two on the piano. Another would strike up a chord on the harmonica, someone else on a guitar. A voice here and there would start on a Christmas carol.  Eventually everyone joined together in music and song.

Once the carols and special hymns had been sung, the gifts were opened.  Gifts were often hand-made: knit scarves & mitts; hand-me-down dresses smocked to add shape and to look new; jams, jellies and pickles preserved in jars with pretty gingham cloth caps; carved toys such as cars and wooden dancing dolls – these were jauntily wrapped and labelled and gratefully received and appreciated – by children and adults alike. Over time, and as our families became better situated financially, the gifts changed to be store bought. Yet the loving intention was still there.

Siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins – we were all more friends than family and enjoyed each others’ company. Team work magically transformed a small living/dining room area into a dining hall fit for royalty. Once everyone was settled, someone would say the Grace. Party favours, paper hats, and single line jokes that everyone read out to all – these were the beginning of the meal. Everyone knew who got the privilege of savouring the two drumsticks that year. There was enough food to feed us all – at least 20 or more people – with enough leftovers for a late night snack of hot turkey, dressing and gravy sandwiches. There were vegetables to add colour and some modicum of nutrition. Last and best received were desserts to please the fussiest of sweet teeth. My favourite was always my grandmother’s laboriously and lovingly homemade fruit cake – rum and all – and heartily drizzled with hot custard. Yum.

At some point in the evening, the younger children would go upstairs and nestle side by side on the big adult feather tick beds to sleep till the teens and parents were ready to depart back to our respective homes – Christmas being over for yet another year.

Though my family moved around a great deal, this Christmas tradition remained a constant in my life.

But when my grandfather passed away (just before my first marriage), so too did the traditions. He was the anchor that moored us all – my parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins. I didn’t realize it then.  I thought it was the change within me after my wedding that spoiled Christmas for me. I did, after all, split my focus between two divergent traditions now – my own and that of my husband. I felt the separation starkly.

There was now Christmas Eve with the in-laws, Christmas morning with my husband, Christmas Day afternoon with my parents and siblings and their families, then Boxing Day with my mother’s family. I allowed my energies to become divided rather than lovingly focused. Being with extended family on both sides at Christmas seemed more like work and obligation than the pure joy of remembered youth.

Then the children arrived. My dedication was to them – attempting to make each Christmas as rich and pure as mine had been – yet unique to and for them for their own memories. I’ve never asked my sons if they ever felt even a smidgeon of the wonder of the Christmases I recall of my youth. But then, they and I would each perceive those memories from our own perspectives. Even if we had been viewing the exact same scenario – we would each have a different story to tell about its unfolding (see our Perception Wheel Story).

My sons were in their teens when their father and I divorced. Life was never the same for any of us after that. We tried to capture something of what had become our own rituals before the division. The attempts never took hold. Our family was broken. So were our traditions.

It has been more than 15 years now and Christmas still causes more sadness than joy for me. There is something vital missing from my life at this time of year. Not knowing what it is, it is elusive. I am unable to capture that which I do not recognize as missing.

Mike and I share our own special traditions together in the morning on Christmas Day – precious time. Priceless. Each year I give thanks for the blessing of Mike in my life. Well, truth be told, I give thanks every day of the year for that blessing.

At Christmas I keep looking and expecting to find that something more – yet it never appears. It’s not a gift. It’s not a trip. It’s nothing you could find in any store or wrap up in fancy paper to tie with a silk ribbon and bow. It’s a feeling in my heart that has gone missing – leaving an ache in its place that hurts beyond measure.

I thought the arrival of grandchildren would recapture the magic for me – by allowing me to give to them as my grandparents gave to me, to all of us. Last year was my first Christmas as a grandmother – and it was oh, so very special! This year that same joy is now being given to our grandson’s other grandparents out east – and rightly so. They, too, deserve to have that privilege and pleasure. Maybe for them and for us, creating new traditions on a biennial basis might be the new trend for us all. Maybe.

Still, I go back to what is lacking from within me at this time of year. Is it possible that we all get to this point as we mature and as life begins to move so fast that change becomes inevitable? Is it merely my maturity that is showing? Do others feel as I feel? If any of you reading this care to share, I’d be honoured to read your comments and will only post them if you okay me to do so.

Well, it’s now a week later. I was not pleased with my approach above. What was there uplifting in what I wrote? And that gave me the impetus to readdress the topic of Christmas and its place in my life. I chose to let go the expectations I continuously had and that I never reached.  I let go of the past to which I was attempting to cling. I chose instead to live moment by moment – this moment in time and to create new and delicious memories for myself. In doing so, what an amazing week I’ve had!!!!

This is Mike’s and my first Christmas in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. The past week we have been doing absolutely everything in and around town that promotes a festive season in this amazing city. Christmas trees are on display at the world famous Empress Hotel. Each tree has been decorated by different local organizations. There must be at least 75 of them! For a donation we got to vote on our favourite and the money goes to the B.C. Children’s Hospital.

There are almost 50 huge teddies at our Hotel Grand Pacific each dressed up to promote a special theme with items available through silent auction format. Again the money goes to charity. Our local scenic tour tugboats, lit up with Christmas lights, do an Inner Harbour Santa dance on the water to the music of the Nutcracker Suite. They do this every Friday and Saturday night in December. For the gift of a warm piece of clothing like mitts or scarf or a cash donation, hot chocolate, cookies and muffins are available. Once they dock the boats, the Dancing Santa’s hand out candy canes to the children (of all ages).

We were happily downtown by unexpected synchronicity when Santa arrived in town – parade and all. Neither of us had been to a Santa Claus parade in more than 20 years. We waved back at those in the floats waving to us. I found myself laughing like a little girl. What a joyous and freeing feeling!

Once we had tasted that delightful event, we chose to go downtown for the city’s tree lighting ceremony – buskers galore, local school choirs, free coffee and chocolates … quite the community event. It was wonderful.

There has been more, yet I think you get the idea. We have both immersed ourselves in the season and with the people of Victoria who are travelling this festive journey with us.

For those of you who know us, Mike and I walk everywhere holding hands. It’s something we love to do – for each other. The joy our gesture brings to the faces of folks who see us is delightful. So this season we have made a point of taking extra time to walk around, saunter, and make eye contact with those we meet. When we do, we give away smiles and Hug Certificates too. Gifting smiles to people we meet wherever we go, and receiving smiles in return, has been fun for us to do!

I wrote earlier this week of what I was missing. Well, I’ve now found what it was I’ve been lacking all these years – loving involvement – me getting out of my own way and giving of myself to bring a smile to someone else. I can’t tell you how nourishing this past week has been to my spirit. Mike and I have started a new and solid tradition. For me it’s been stepping away from the dread and out into the world – even our little corner of it – which has enriched us both to overflowing with Christmas Spirit.

However you celebrate this time of year – whatever your traditions – please know that we, Mike and I, are thinking of you this season. We wish you contented closure on this year of 2009. We also wish you the most amazing year ahead in 2010 – filled with all the health, happiness and prosperity you can possibly handle. May you know magic and marvel at every turn. Grant yourself permission to fly!

***** Merry Christmas *****

In Light & Laughter & Love,


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