Growing up, Christmas was my absolute favorite holiday. I loved everything about it. I eagerly anticipated the late November/early December day when my mother would give me the green light to make the trek down into our old, dusty basement to get the tree. I couldn’t make it down those rickety old steps fast enough to retrieve the beaten up box that contained our trusty old artificial tree. In my world, only people on television had “real” trees.
I would beg to put it up all by myself, meticulously placing the color-coded branches into place, and then revel in a giddy sense of accomplishment as I watched it blossom from a barren metal stand into a beautiful six-foot giant towering over me.
My mother proudly watched from the kitchen, periodically offering unsolicited advice for me to be careful, as I always was a little on the clumsy side. She would be washing dishes, baking, or doing something else domestic, while simultaneously getting into the Christmas spirit herself as the Jackson 5 Christmas album blasted from the record player in the dining room. “I saw mommy kissing Santa Claus…underneath the mistletoe last night…” I am embarrassed to say how old I was when I finally understood the meaning of that song…but it speaks to the fact that my parents allowed me to maintain my childhood innocence and belief in Santa Claus for as long as possible.
Speaking of Santa, one of my other favorite things about Christmas was the toys…oh, the toys. I made my list and checked it twice. Back in those days, before the internet, there was the JC Penney catalog. I, like every other child I knew, couldn’t wait to leaf through, page by glossy page, circling everything Santa had room on his sleigh to bring me. And boy, did he deliver…every single year.
Of course, as I got older, I learned the truth behind who was really bringing (I mean, buying my presents). When I was about 10 years old, a few weeks before Christmas, my mom asked me to retrieve something from her bedroom. In typical kid fashion, I “half-looked”, didn’t see it where she had indicated, and decided to look elsewhere…elsewhere being her closet. It was not there either, but what was there was the Yamaha keyboard that I had asked Santa for that year…and the rest is history. I guess I should have also taken note of the fact that the cookies I left out for Santa every year were my dad’s favorite cookies. LOL
Beyond my love for putting up the tree and getting gifts, my fondest memories of Christmas are around family and traditions. In my household, one of our traditions was opening one gift on Christmas Eve. Although I knew it would be new Christmas pajamas, my excitement was as heightened as if I had no clue. As soon as I got my crispy new pajamas on, I enthusiastically got ready for bed. This was about the only night of the year that I prayed to fall asleep fast.
I would wake up super early on Christmas morning to a house that was pitch black, except for the glimmering light of our Christmas tree. The only difference in the few hours since I last saw the tree was the now massive array of presents, wrapped and unwrapped, surrounding it. I would ooh and aah over the unwrapped gifts, which were usually the “big” things I had asked for, and then wake my parents up to commence opening the wrapped gifts.
Next on the Christmas morning to-do list was to call my cousins—all of them, one by one, to see what Santa (or their parents) had gotten them. Most times they would still be asleep but would call back shortly thereafter so that we could squeal in delight as we talked about our respective treasures.
A few hours of enjoying presents with my parents and then we were off to my grandmother’s house for Christmas Morning—Round 2. I come from a large family so everyone would meet at Nana’s house and open up gifts from her and “grandpa” (Nana’s longtime “beau”), and one another. We would spend a couple of hours together before going home—only to come back to Nana’s house later that evening for a traditional Christmas dinner of ham and all of the fixings.
This was the tradition and routine for my ENTIRE childhood…until it wasn’t. It was during my senior year of college that my parents and family stopped celebrating Christmas altogether. We had always been Christians but at this time, my family began studying the Bible more closely and decided that Christmas, as we had been celebrating, was not scriptural…and just like that, our family Christmas celebrations were no more. Admittedly, my mom struggled with this a bit in the beginning so I did receive seven “Kwanzaa” gifts, as she called them, that first year of “not celebrating”.
Because I was a college student and away from home when my family stopped celebrating, I was impacted by “default”. It all happened so quickly that I never took the time to question whether or not I believed the same. Honestly, the way I saw it, it didn’t really matter whether I did or not because if my love for Christmas was rooted in my family’s traditions and celebration, what was the point, if they weren’t celebrating. Since that time, almost twenty years ago, my family has become less rigid in their biblical interpretations but they still don’t celebrate Christmas. To be clear, I am 100% aware that Jesus is the reason for the season, before someone thinks that I am missing the point of it all.
Nonetheless, for as many years as I have spent not celebrating, one would think that it gets easier. It doesn’t. Every year, the empty space that Christmas held grows wider and wider. For the past couple of years, I have considered celebrating but as a single woman with no children, with whom would I celebrate?
People often remind us during this season to be mindful of those whose loved ones have passed on, those who may be depressed, and those who are alone. While I am not trying to play the “ostracized Olympics”, I will say that Christmas may be hard for some of your friends for whom you may not suspect. Perhaps it is that single, childless person like me…or the person who has gone through a recent divorce or break-up. Maybe it is someone whose children have grown up and started their own families and traditions or the person who lives far away from family. There could be a myriad of reasons and situations.
For those of you who, like me, may feel down during the holiday season, I suggest you start your own traditions. I have started to do so. The way that I combat the melancholy that this season brings is to engage with others—even others I don’t know. Here are some ways to celebrate, even if it’s not your traditional way of celebrating:
- Adopt a family for Christmas—even if you don’t know them. This can be done through your local YMCA, YWCA, school district, or college alumni association. Purchasing a meal basket or a few (or more) children’s toys brings immeasurable joy to a family in need.
- Volunteer on Christmas Day. Homeless shelters, domestic violence centers, and similar venues need people to serve and engage with families who have found themselves in an unfortunate (and hopefully temporary) situation. Bless others with your presence by serving food, wrapping gifts, and/or playing games with children and families.
- Pick a friend to “bless”. Gift a magazine subscription, a book, a bottle of wine. Giving to others can be a pick me up for you.
- Host an event. You may be surprised to learn that there are others who are not with their families or who may not have grown up celebrating at all. Host a Christmas Day brunch or game night with friends who may not have holiday plans either.
- Speak up. I know for many of us, speaking up about our loneliness makes us vulnerable in a way that is uncomfortable…but closed mouths don’t get fed. Sometimes our acquaintances assume that we already have plans and perhaps would invite us to join them if they knew that we didn’t.
What are some other ways you can start your own holiday celebratory traditions?