Carefree Christmas started this year. It wasn’t on purpose. I didn’t know it was going to happen. I’ll start from the beginning.
As a kid, I knew Stressful Christmas.
Christmas is portrayed as a family-oriented holiday about homecoming and gathering around the table. Ours were more like a day of weeping behind a slammed door.
My mom struggled with her mental health issues. Limited daylight hours and cheerful songs in every store made this time of the year worse for her. Tell depressed people they should be feeling joy when it’s dismal and dark out. You might as well spit in their faces while you are at it.
I was about 16 when my parents separated and I was on my own. Then it was the time of Outsider Christmas.
I worked at a movie theater. I appreciated the distraction of working on the holiday. Some of the ushers wore Santa hats. The fake red fleece didn’t match the terrible stiff brown polyester jackets they had to wear, but the hats added a sense of the season.
Because I didn’t have a family to return to, I often was a caretaker for friends’ homes on Christmas while they went home.
I remember Santa Cruz under the palm trees and feeling the ocean breeze. I used to walk in the middle of the street as I went from one friend’s house to the next. The streets were empty, no traffic, everyone tucked in their homes. It was the one day of the year in this tourist town I felt I owned it. I was the only one out, walking, wandering.
I entered the silent homes, watered the plants and filled up the cat bowls. As I stood and looked out their windows, I imagined I would always be alone on Christmas. (I was full of these sorts of dramatic thoughts in my 20s.)
Then I got married and had a baby. It started the phase of Memorable, Modest Christmas.
It had to be memorable because I had a child and I wanted him to have all the happy memories I didn’t.
It had to be modest because we never knew when a job loss was around the corner. I didn’t want him to have a big Christmas one year and then a small (sad) Christmas the next.
It’s a lot of pressure to make Memorable, Modest Christmas. I concerned myself with small details that seemed largely important. For example, we had to have a chocolate orange that you whacked and broke into separate pieces. If the stockings didn’t have chocolate oranges come Christmas morning, it WAS NOT CHRISTMAS.
Sometimes they were hard to find and we drove from store to store. But darn it! We would have chocolate oranges.
I find it impossible to force myself to be happy. Even if the holiday is supposed to be happy. I cannot make myself feel it. But I felt that pressure of every other person delighting in the day that is December 25. Every other (not dysfunctional) family making memories that they would treasure for years to come.
And then there was me, stressed out, trying to be happy and make Christmas memorable and yet still modest.
Fortunately, my son survived my conflicted holiday attitude. He’s 18 now. As far as I am concerned, my job as Master Memory Maker (while still keeping it modest and replicable) is over.
I’ve never been so happy and relaxed at Christmas. I’m not worried about anything. I don’t care. I love the songs, the food, the cards, the lights, the parties and the gifts. But I don’t need them.
I was walking through the store with my husband the other day.
“Oh, look, chocolate oranges!” I said.
We stopped at the display.
“Should we get them?” he said.
“No, we don’t have to,” I said. “I don’t need them this year.”
He gave me a look to make sure that the pod people hadn’t snatched me up in replacement. I smiled back.
“Weird, isn’t it? But I’m just not worried about it,” I said.
We walked out of the store, without chocolate oranges, but with a sense of acceptance.
Christmas can be a lot of things depending on where you are in life. I hope yours is happy enough. But if it’s not, Dec. 26 will come soon enough.
Much love to you all!