And we decided to put together all the different ways our traditions have changed over the years.
We truly hope that no matter what you celebrate during this time of year, that you find happiness, joy, and peace in it.
When my son was born, I was 19 and had been married and moved across the country from my family since the day after I turned 18. I was young, and essentially on my own since my husband was gone all of the time. Despite my religious upbringing, I wanted nothing to do with traditional religious takes on holidays. I began to borrow and create my own. Santa was never “real” at our house, but was encompassed in the spirit of giving to others. Winter solstice and yule were much more highly regarded than Christmas. I didn’t have much money, so homemade candles and decorations brought in from nature were the norms for many years, even after my daughters were born and I divorced their father.
Once the children got older and exposed to more of society, it became increasingly difficult during the holidays. Everything was commercialized and shiny and expensive. As a single mom, I had a lot of guilt and I spent several years giving in to the pressures of children who wanted to fit in and have the latest gadgets and gizmos. They were happy, and I was miserable. The holidays became something that broke my single-mom budget and drained my energy.
When my now husband got married over a decade ago, (and added more children to the mix!) I decided things needed to change. Not back to as drastic as they had been in the beginning, but I needed to scale down… a lot. Yes, we still celebrate Christmas, but we only get stockings and Secret Santa presents from names drawn out of a hat.
We do what most would call an Advent calendar, but it is actually an over-the-door shoe organizer that each child decorated for themselves. Each day there is a small gift such as a piece of chocolate or a chapstick; or there is supplies for an activity, such as cookie cutters for making cookies, gumdrops and toothpicks for creating sculptures, sledding/skating coupons, or supplies for a family movie/board game night.
For the past few years, the winter holidays have once again begun to focus more on Solstice and Yule. We plan an entire week of events around the solstice, all nature-based, and homemade. We hunt for the perfect yule log and write down our wishes for the next year prior to burning it. I am feeling closer to my core again.
My older children are almost grown now, at 19, 17, and 16. This year they have jobs and have re-invigorated the commercialized aspect of Christmas, feeling the need to buy fancy presents and gifts for all of their friends and their younger sisters. I am hopeful that they will enjoy their newfound financial freedom, but also realize that they aren’t any happier in the end with the expensive gifts and fancy wrapping as they have been with our family holiday celebrations. I don’t expect that level of understanding for a while, but I am hopeful that they get there. No matter what, I hope they enjoy the act of giving.
When I was young, I never imagined that my December holiday would rotate around Hanukkah. Honestly, I didn't know much about it. I knew Christmas, and that was about it.
I also never planned to meet and marry the man I did. I was, after all, "over the whole dating thing." Doesn't it always happen that way?
I grew up loving the light of the tree. Of course, the gifts were fun. But it was the light. Especially at night, in the dark, while I cuddled on the couch--the lights blinking. The sound of the soft music playing. The smell of the tree--reminding me of being outside on a cold winter night.
Now, twenty years after meeting my husband, and twenty years of practicing a different religion and a different holiday, it is still the light. In many ways, I can say, it was always the light that pulled me in the darkness. But now, it is in a very different way than what I once believed.
There is a call to lighting the darkness within Hanukkah that speaks to me so deeply. Where there is no light....we have a choice. Wait for it, searching for it. Or become it.
This is what I hope to pass on to my children. And, honestly, what I hope and strive to be--a light in the dark. During the cold. Out in the world, making a difference.
It is my hope that they will hold onto that feeling, just as I did. And while they may like the Hanukkah gifts too (let's not forget about that!), it is my wish for them that they always remember putting the menorah in the window. Lighting the darkness. And choosing to be the change they wish to see in the world.
Ragey Christmas Cards
Round about the first year after my Mom died I started to get really frustrated with all the words I heard swirling around the “hustle and bustle” of the holidays being such a burden.
You know that thing where you have come out of a life or death situation and you just can’t be bothered by things like traffic and other mundane annoyances because if no one is dying it just doesn’t seem important? I was there. I felt pretty resentful actually. “You think shopping for all the people on your list is HARD?! AT LEAST ALL THOSE PEOPLE ARE STILL ALIVE!”
OH! GIFT WRAPPING IS AWFUL, IS IT?! TRY BREASTFEEDING YOUR BABY AT SOMEONE’S DEATH BED!!!
(Yes, as you guessed, Hallmark contacted me to put some of these inspirational phrases onto Seasonal Greeting Cards. Maybe you’ve seen them in stores?)
Since that time I have tried to stay in perspective about the holidays. Also since then, I find myself bluer in general around this time of year. Each Christmas it seems that there has been something more than just “hustle and bustle” to muddle through. (Hallmark is so grateful because this means I have great fodder to draw from with all the things I scream in my head).
One year it was a miscarriage. Seriously… Try getting into a holiday that is literally ALL ABOUT A BABY when yours just bled out of you. One year it was a tumor. One year it was, of all things, a kitchen that was demolished because of water damage (and yes… I felt as though the stress of that should pale in comparison to the stress of other seasons, and yet… It honestly didn’t).
So this last week, when I was sitting in The Ronald McDonald House after another day of my daughter’s pretty excruciating mental health treatments trying to process the fact that I had been in the ER that same morning at 4 a.m learning that I had kidney stones large enough that they would not be able to pass without medical intervention, the feelings I felt honestly felt familiar.
Believe me, the Ragey-Angry Not-quite-what-Hallmark-was-looking-for sentiments were rolling right out of my head.
In year’s past I’ve been able to roll around in the holidays that come out of this time of year…. There is an emphasis on light, yes, but it is light that comes out of darkness. And that means… that requires… that we grapple with the darkness first.
So when grief bubbled up… when sadness, and despondency came more quickly than joy and peace and goodwill, I felt like I was still on the right track. I was able to give myself over to traditions that met me there and I did. And that seemed to give way to hope in the light at some point, each and every year.
This year though? This year everything is disjointed. This year that pervasive gloom is heavy. And it is too familiar. It is familiar enough to make me angry.
This year my Card would read, “OK, OK, I FREAKING GET IT ALREADY. IT HAS TO BE DARK BEFORE YOU APPRECIATE THE LIGHT! IT IS LIKE REALLY, REALLY, REALLY DARK. AGAIN! STILL! SO TELL ME RIGHT NOW, WHEN DO WE GET TO THE LIGHT PART, EXACTLY?!”
And traditions? Traditions have gone right out the window.
Except not quiet. The music still plays. The kids still read their Advent Book. The stockings are still hung. And cookies are still showing up. The candles are still lit one by one at church each week.
I can’t for the life of me figure out how or when shopping is going to happen, but I figure whether or not it does, the days will still keep passing, and the celebrations will come.
It all just keeps right on rolling, and I thought I would feel resentful of that, but strangely it don’t. It’s all happening with or without me and I can choose the parts ot give over to and the parts to rest from.
It turns out I’m in an angry, tired, and sad place this year, but I’m also someplace else.
I am, for lack of a better way of saying it… here.
I can’t handle anything, but what is in front of me. And so I am focusing on the now.
And in the now I find that I am surprised anew by what is happening around me in the darkness… and even in the darkness giving way to light.
In the now I find that I look around the stores I’m in and see harried people and as I shuffle around with a kidney that is throbbing and angry the thought that comes to mind is this: Look at all of us showing up and trying our best anyway. And then I feel like smiling at those around me. And maybe giving them a fistbump to say…. You are here. Good job. You got this.
I find that I enter places of worship with a chip on my shoulder and leave them feeling lighter….
I find the pictures of angels and stars that my kids are drawing and the chance to lean into their sweetness makes the now and the here feel full whether or not I have energy to decorate or bake cookies.
My tradition celebrates the idea that the divine came to be with us in the dark and in the squalor in the unexpected and in the messy and I find that too, sitting in the middle of the Now.
And as a result I may start a day with Ragey Holiday Sentiments for an Edgy Alternative Line of Holiday Card, but I end it so often thinking… Now. And Here. It has to be enough this year…
And so somehow it is.
"mom that's what a tradition is ... You do something once, then if you like it you keep doing it ". ~ middle child wisdom
It has been so long since I have had a 'traditional' Christmas, i have almost forgotten what that is. For a long time it felt like the death of all the things i loved. No more big family, early dinner, lots of cousins, or silly gifts. Every year a few more things slipped away. Christmas doesn't look like my childhood... instead it is a combination of the childhoods of all my dearest friends. When I look back now, i realize that each year brought the chance at a new tradition. Friends that are like family, new recipes, kids' joy, new gift traditions. I didn't lose anything. Tradition is what you want to keep. Tradition can start whenever. So here is to traditions old and new that bind us all together.
It is a channel on the satellite radio.
It is plastered on every storefront.
It is on every commercial.
When I was a child, we had Christmas Tradition.
Our family was spread all over the country, so it was usually just the four of us. Pappy worked on Christmas Eve. We helped Mom clean up, make supper, get dressed, and wait for Pappy to come home. Then, after a quick supper, we all went to Church on Christmas Eve. We opened presents after Church, then my sister and I tried to go to sleep, but we were excited for Santa. Mom played the Night Before Christmas on a tape player. We would wake up early to see what Santa brought us on Christmas morning. Mom and Pappy would make a big supper. That was Christmas. I found comfort in that tradition.
I married my Soldier when I was just 3 weeks shy of 19. I moved to his duty station, far away, in Kansas. He and I would make that 17 hour drive "home" to Georgia. When we moved to Kentucky, it was less of a drive, but still 6-8 hours. Weeks before the holidays, we would argue about whose house we would go to. We would argue about how long we would stay, when we would leave, when to drive back to Kentucky. Then we got pregnant. I was sick that Christmas. We still made the trek home to Atlanta. That summer, we had a baby. He was gone for most of her first 2 years. I never really developed a tradition for her. He was gone. Or not. When he was not gone, the Army was still first. Sometimes he had duty. Sometimes we had Christmas in our little house. Sometimes it was in Georgia. I began to realize tradition is a headache. Everything has to be perfect because that is the tradition and our military life wouldn't allow us to make one.
Then we had our second baby. She was born on 26 December. Christmas became a bigger celebration-- her.
We moved to Georgia when she was 7 months old. We had 2 kids and we were only 4 drive hours away from family. Eventually we decided we would do Christmas at home unnless he was gone, and he was most years. The girls and I would go to Atlanta or to a friend's house. Some years we went on a vacation because we needed to celebrate our daughter's birthday and either reintegrate or spend those precious last few days together before he would leave again.
In the 20 years we were active duty, we found comfort in that our Army Family rarely had traditions. We did what we always do-- we figured it out.
He is retired now and this year was still a jumbled up mess of last minute plans and cancellations as we scramble to figure it out. However, I also discovered the comfort in not conforming to a specific tradition. It doesn't matter what day we open presents. We can share a meal with family and friends anytime. We can do whatever fits our dynamic at the moment. This year impromptu is our moment and we are content with that.
When I was growing up, the best part of Christmas was, to me, snuggling on the sofa with hot chocolate, the only light from the tree and the only sound carols on the record or tape player.
Holiday and other family get-togethers were always stressful times in my family, at least from my perspective.
Not many of my various family members liked each other, and my dad tended to make things vastly uncomfortable at least once during each event.
Our Christmas was vastly wrapped around with religious importance, which was fine to a point, but stopped making sense once things because less than "Christ-like".
It was honestly a relief when I left not only those beliefs but also most of my family behind.
Over the years, I've been included in the celebrations of friends and loved ones or occasionally my family; and while it's been lovely, it's not been anything that really's drawn me to this time of year more than any other.
Mostly, I find myself frustrated that I've forgotten, yet again, that nothing is open on Christmas and I'm out of everything.
While I was married, we never really created a tradition. We'd go see his family, we'd fly back to Seattle to see friends, we'd stay at home and do nothing.
At some point, I would really love to be able to fully celebrate the longest night, the Solstice, and Yule.
For me right now, the holidays are a time to take a moment of reflection on what the last season has been, my last year, and decide if I've done what I'd hoped to, or if I'm still on the path I've set myself on.
Often, the answer is no.
But that's okay, because the longest night is both for reflection and to remind us that no matter the darkness we currently stand in, there is light ahead.
Progress, not perfection.