Christmas Gets Harder

December 29, 2021 at 1:11 pm 1 comment

When you’re a kid, Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. You live in a marshmallow world. You write a letter to a complete stranger, and, if you are good or mostly good or even just occasionally good, your wishes will be granted.

It was all so easy. Your energy never dwindled. Even at 7:00 a.m., you could greet the day with a whoop of joy and leap from your bed like a reindeer who has just been told he’s cute. After a quick scramble down the stairs, you’d see that cookies had been eaten and milk had been drunk; stockings were plumped; and marvelous things, like an Easy-Bake Oven or a pogo stick, awaited you.

Everything sparkled. Magic existed, and the proof was everywhere.

But Christmas gets harder.

We grow taller. Our world gets bigger, and secrets are harder to keep. I hope when you discovered the truth about K. Kringle that it wasn’t just three days before Christmas. I hope you were older than 7. (Hoo boy. My heart shattered like a mercury glass ornament dropped from a great height.)

Still. Your resiliency meter is full as a child, and Christmas continues to be pretty wonderful. You receive fun gifts; festive decorations pop up wherever you go; wonderful meals appear on the table when it’s time to eat. And you—you are a shining star, loved and cherished, ooh’ed and ahh’ed over by grandparents, aunts, uncles, great aunts, great uncles, neighbors, and family friends.

You have siblings and cousins, school friends and neighborhood playmates. At any point, you can simply walk outside and there will be other children to play with, to go sled riding or build a snowman. It is still a magical time. And you become, once again, a well-adjusted, happy soul on Christmas.

Then, a few years later, the next great holiday conspiracy kicks in:  Christmas romance.

Ah yes. I stood there year after year, bright eyed and certain, all dressed up with no place to go, keeping a hopeful eye out, bolstering my disappointments with assurances of “next year,” believing in every platitude, navigating the season of dances and parties and diamond marketing, and surviving that awkward moment of having no place to put your lips at midnight on New Year’s Eve, but the traditions of love and marriage never happened for me.

Now, I have made peace with a solitary life and I am not trying to be maudlin, but, folks, it is a simple fact that some people are unlucky in love. Some never get the chance to be Santa. Some of us have to go it alone, and the sugar-coated, family-centric, Hallmarkian season can make even the most well-adjusted Old Maid flinch a bit.

Christmas gets harder.

On your own or with a partner, as you get older, Christmas becomes a lot of work. More pressure, more responsibilities, more problems. The kids have become the adults, and the reality of stepping into those shoes will make you stumble and limp. It’s our turn to shop and cook. To make the decisions and run the errands. To find a parking space at the mall. To face gladiatorial trials of amassing vacation days and surviving travel.

The to-do list gets longer. The days get shorter.

It’s a lot, to be an adult at Christmas. And it doesn’t matter how easy-breezy you try to be or how many times you check your list or how early you start or how many hours you spend, there is always something else that needs doing.

One day, you look around, and Christmas has changed so dramatically as to be almost unrecognizable. Part of that is the adult perspective and associated responsibilities, but the tragic thing is that, after 50-plus years on the planet, Christmas changes because you are missing some significant people. And that hurts. And you are reminded of them through every activity, every song, every smell; in the ornaments, the jokes, the snacks, the bows on boxes; even in the simple act of unwrapping 48 silver buds. Christmas is a prism for grief; strands of love and longing shine over everything.

I struggled this year. I got overwhelmed. I swore some. I sobbed a bit. I lost the plot. And then I got angry that I felt sad and stressed instead of “Christmassy.” About the middle of last week, I reached a point where it felt as if the only way out was to hate Christmas.

Sometimes giving up feels like the only answer. But, spoiler alert, that is never the only answer.

Amid the craziest of the craziness, a wise friend reminded me to be on the lookout for moments of joy. Oh, may the choirs of angels sing. And may a guardian angel kick my bottom if I ever want to give up on Christmas again.

I made an adjustment.

I kept going. I tidied the house and prepped the food, but I stopped rushing, and I stopped pushing. I tended to my Dad (who was ill the entire week before Christmas), and I did what I could. I told myself that no one coming to our house over the holidays would care about the messes, and I reminded myself that, even if they did, I did not.

Given that we were preparing to celebrate the birth of Christ, I acknowledged that it was rather silly of me to think any effort of mine is what would save the day.

I decided to ignore the Forest of Things To Do and just stare at a single tree, with a big ol’ glass of pinot grigio in my hand. I dropped the goal of an ideal holiday. I dropped the goal of an okay holiday. I minimized the to-do list, ignored the disarray, and took a few hours off. I stopped trying so hard to feel giddy and happy and young. And I surrendered.

I folded my arms across my heart, and I did a trust fall into Christmas.

I’m not going to tell you it was the best day ever. But, when I got up on December 25th, it was Christmas. It came. It came just the same.

The proof of magic these days may not be as obvious as flying reindeer or a fat man getting down a chimney, but it exists. Magic remains in the gathering of family, in the science of ancient recipes, in surprises hidden in boxes and bags. Magic lives on in the memories, the traditions, and the happiness we feel. Magic even exists in grief. In grief, at least, you can feel again the exquisite joy of those you have loved and who loved you, too.

As you get older, Christmas gets harder. But, of course, that’s when we need it the most.

There were a few tears this Christmas. There was clutter and dust. There was rain instead of snow. There was an artificial tree instead of a real one. But, yes, Virginia, there were moments of joy. It was a perfectly imperfect day, and, as night fell, I experienced the childlike hope that it would not end. It was Christmas, and I didn’t hate it.

Entry filed under: Life Preservers. Tags: , , , , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Life with Alegria  |  December 29, 2021 at 4:59 pm

    I do love your positive perspective. Christmas is certainly not easy for many and definitely brings out the emotions both good and bad. I’m glad though that you did find some joy in it.

    Liked by 1 person

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