As adults we get so wrapped up in our daily grinds and routines. The stresses of adulthood… paying bills, fixing cars, getting the kids to school, staying healthy…you name it– so much stress. And when the holidays come round it can add even more stress on top of the already heavy load.
Then it starts to happen. You find yourself humming a carol or two under your breath, your heartbeat dances and you start looking for those houses that have put up lights. Then you find yourself trying to outdo yourself from the previous year with the outdoor lights and perhaps going overboard. (Like Rick Gifford in Harwich MA) Each person has their thing that makes their holiday special.
It’s a quiet sort of magic that happens every year. Quietly, as a hush in the night, or a light burning brighter… it grows. All these traditions we have that are passed down from generation to generation and the stories told. These are treasures we unpack, like the ornaments, lights and Christmasy type stuff we’ve packed away the year before. We then go out and get a tree, put on Holiday music and start to decorate. Each ornament is a gift. I see the three wise men and other clothespin “people” ornaments my family made one year out of a kit on my Mother’s tree. I remember as a child, I had wanted to help paint them even though I was too small and wasn’t any good at painting. I wanted to do the clown because he was bright and silly looking. And so the clown is forever a messy imperfect story. Some of these clothespin ornaments have been roughed up over the years. Some lost a leg or a prop, like the wisemen’s gift is gone. Robin Hood lost his quiver I think and the policeman an arm but that doesn’t stop them from going up on the tree every year. Mom also made quilted stars, hearts and birds that she sold at a craft fair years ago and these were the ones she kept. Then there are the three fragile blue and sliver birds clipped near the top of the tree under Mom’s blue angel which she got the first Christmas with my Dad. The tree lights are always blue with silver tinsel and a white candle in every window.
My favorite family decorations were the little houses, church, trees, people and sheep that made up a little village on the mantle. I think Mom bought those in Sweden before she even met Dad. She also had this wooden Tomkin and the picture book on the Tomkin which was also came from Sweden. He was like a little Santa Clause who carried a lantern. He would also go up on the mantle and we’d hang up our stockings as well. Mom’s was green felt with felted pictures on it. Dad’s, Wink’s and mine were all similar, red with white trim and our names were felt and glued on. I had sewn bells on mine at one point. Then Jamie’s was with with a red candy cane type boarder and a Christmas Mouse on it. These were sometimes so stuffed that they had to be taken off the mantle and laid down on the wooden bench that Dad made to go in front of the fireplace.
Long gone are the days of my childhood. We no longer do stockings. Billy (Wink) and Jamie have their own families now and there is no mantle to put out the village at Mom’s place. And Dad has past on as well. I’m the lone wolf come home to visit. And it will be just me and Mom on Christmas morning. I sit here in front of the blue tree thinking of places we’ve lived in the past and the various Christmas’s we’ve shared. So many cherished moments. How do I share them all?
My throat tightens up, tears sting and suddenly it is too quiet. I can’t even hear Mom snoring in her room. Just the wind and a slight jingle of wind-chimes outside her back door. I miss it. I miss it all. The anticipation as my family took the sugar cookies out of the oven to cool on the racks… and the kids (me and my brothers) sitting and decorating them all with frosting and jimmies. Then we’d each pick the best cookies to set aside for Santa. We’d put out the plate, with some carrots and milk. Then the worst part was trying to get to sleep when you were too wound up and high on sugar to even think about closing our eyes. The pages of the Sears catalog would dance in our heads and we’d wonder… what was Santa bringing us this year? A Barbie Camper for me, a GI Joe for Wink and Star Wars for Jamie? Were we good enough to be on Santa’s good list? The worry would creep in and more lack of sleep… I was surprised we didn’t burst open at the seems! But then I remember I’d look over at our white candle’s in the bedroom window and just know. The magic of Christmas was real. All was right with the world and if I just close my eyes… it would finally be here. Sooner.
Now I worry about the gifts I bought. Am I out of touch with my nieces and nephew? They seem so grown up and I can hardly keep up with what they’re into because I feel like I hardly see them. When they were little, I’d read to them and make up stories and they’d look at me with wide eyes and smile… we’d start to giggle, or sing or play a game… and all was right in the world. But now, I struggle to know what to say. So I say the only thing that will never ever change. “I love you.” In my family, we’re big on love. We hug, we kiss each other on the cheek and we say what we feel. I didn’t know how rare that was in families until Pasture David pointed it out to us when we met to talk about Dad’s funeral. And I don’t know why it’s rare. How can you not? I just don’t get that. I don’t know what I’d do with out my amazing family. I’m so blessed. But sometimes I wish I could have a greater understanding of these amazing beings that are blossoming into their own selves. I know that each moment is a gift, so I don’t want to waste that. Anyone who has lost someone has learned that hard lesson. Live… live your life to the fullest. Embrace this magic that is out there right now.
I admit, I had a hard time embracing it this year. I wasn’t going to get a tree because my micro apartment is so small it’s like living on a ship. My December Birthday passed and I still didn’t have a tree. It just didn’t even feel like December. But last Wednesday night, I found myself at Tags, a store in Cambridge, and they had these tiny little fake trees that light up and it just came home with me. As I opened up my tin of Christmas ornaments, I found my smile. I found joy. I found peace and light. Here was Christmas. Right here. Something settled inside me and I wasn’t as lonely anymore. Because when you place an ornament on the tree all the pieces of your soul unite and you are whole once more. All the stories come together again and are home right there in your heart. They keep you company. At least that was how it happened for me this year.
Last night I found myself driving up to Rockport to a Holiday Karaoke party at Studio Crepe a friend was hosting. I got up and sang Holy Night and a few other songs of the season. It felt good. I felt good. I was confident again. Perhaps over the last few years I was lost? It certainly felt that way to me. But all of a sudden I wanted to create. I wanted to perform, to BE again and not hide away. I then stayed up most of the night talking with my friend Henry about life. He had been a single father who lost his son at a young age. His life changed in a flash. So he knows how precious the NOW is. This moment is. What a gift we have. This life. So here I am creating a life I love. What are you creating?
“Oh Holy Night, the stars are brightly shining…”