Every year about this time I begin to feel a little sad. Cheery Christmas music is playing in every store, blaring from every radio. The streets are lined with homes festively lit up. Even the lampposts are decorated!
For Christians, the reason for the season is Jesus, not gifts, but most of us buy into it – the glitz, the glamour, the sales! I love gift-giving. It gives me as much pleasure as the recipient. Through the years I’ve focused on the reason and reached out to those in need by giving food, buying a gift for needy children or singing at a nursing home.
But I can still feel sad. What is this sadness about? Why do I experience it every year?
I know I’m not alone in feeling grief or sadness during this time of year. Christmas is a season where people can feel isolated, where fractured family structures are more pronounced. Estranged children, family that has passed away or a sick loved one can all keep us from feeling joy during this holiday season.
We all want the perfect Christmas, don’t we? The Norman Rockwell card? Smiling families delighted to be together, perfectly baked ham and all of our favorite gifts under the tree. Well, I think I pretty much had that growing up.
While decorating my living room today and reminiscing about Christmases past, I realized something. Like a lightening bolt, as I was going down the rabbit hole of feeling sad, I woke up! I shook myself and said, “Angela, you have EVERYTHING! The beautiful childhood Christmas memories surrounded by aunts and uncles and cousins, Christmas with your three beautiful children and now, a husband to celebrate with and five grandchildren! You have nothing to be sad about!”
And just like that, I realized the truth. That I had it all.
An idyllic Christmas as a child with gifts on Christmas morning and singing in the choir at Mass. The Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve at Aunt Helen’s followed by more food and more family at Aunt Lucy’s. Then and another family dinner on Christmas Day with Aunt Helen and her family followed by visiting my dad’s brothers or attending the Christmas open house at my Godmother’s. Food and drink, cookies and merriment.
There was no Christmas tree falling down because it was put up by someone too drunk to do it right, there were no drunken brawls, no huge family arguments. I know people who experienced these Christmases, indelibly etched in their minds, forever marring happy memories of Christmas.
No, my family had beautiful holidays with lots of visitors after church on Christmas Day and throughout the week.
That is part of the sadness, the nostalgia. Missing all of the family members who have passed away, including my parents. If I could go back and do it all over again, I would. I want that childhood Christmas again.
I’m fortunate enough to have three children and I created a magical experience for them too. Yes, we visited family in Philadelphia, sometimes on Christmas Eve, sometimes on Christmas Day, usually spending the week between Christmas and New Year’s up there.
On the years we stayed home on Christmas, I would miss my extended family terribly, but being here in Maryland allowed me to create wonderful Christmas memories with the family that I had right in front of me.
I created new traditions. Opening gifts was practically an all day affair.
On Christmas morning, carols playing in the background, the kids would come into the living room bubbling with excitement, eyes wide and bright. I couldn’t stand ripping open the gifts all at once in bedlam so we each took turns opening one present at a time so we could enjoy each other’s gifts and take it all in. We paused for the special holiday brunch that I made and kept the anticipation of opening the rest of the gifts and the stockings. I always held one special gift back and this one would be hidden for later in the day when the kids would search throughout the house for it.
The wrapping paper would pile up in the living room; I was in no hurry to clean it up. The kids would cover themselves with it and I would watch as they popped up giggling with each other, enjoying the paper as much as their toys, as kids tend to do.
Through the years, I have found that reaching out to others who are lonely, without family, has been a balm for both of us. My home has been opened to many, especially those whose families are far away. We fill a need for each other. Neither of us is lonely when we are together.
Today, I am fortunate. All of my kids are married with kids of their own and we still celebrate the Feast of the Seven Fishes together on Christmas Eve. We are sharing this age-old tradition with a new generation of children.
So what do I have to be sad about? Yes, I miss my family; I miss my babies. This is the next phase in my life. I am the elder generation. Life is changing and that is normal. I have a husband who loves me dearly to share this holiday with and I get to celebrate with my family. So many people don’t have that. No family or no spouse or no children and grandchildren. Some people have never had even one Christmas like the ones I have had.
I’ve had it all – the wonderful childhood Christmases, the delightful Christmases of my children growing up and now, the grandchildren and the traditions my kids are creating.
And that was my realization today. That I have nothing to be sad about. Nothing at all. I am one of the most fortunate people to have had it all.
And I thank God for that.
If you are like me, feeling sad, nostalgic, looking back, maybe it’s time to take another look at your life. It’s not wrong to feel these things, but it’s not what we need to be focusing on. Maybe all the things you need are right there in front of you too.
I hope you have wonderful Christmas memories too. I hope that Christmas is everything you want it to be, and that maybe, my realization will also be your realization. That you are fortunate too. That you have many blessings to count. And that maybe you’ll find someone who is lonely and reach out to them.