Every Day is Saturday

Finding Joy in the Here and Now

A Small, Quiet Christmas

on December 3, 2013

Holly & Ivy

Today on Facebook a friend posted a link to a video of the Monkees singing an old Spanish Christmas carol called “Riu Chiu”.  I don’t understand a word of the song, but the melody and the harmonies are hauntingly beautiful.  For me, it is a perfect reflection of this time of year – as the weather gets colder and the days get shorter, a quietness descends, muffling the sharp sounds of summer.  Instead of sandals slapping on hot pavement, boots rustle though piles of fallen leaves.  Overcast skies have shrunk the wild blue yonder to a cloud-ceilinged room.  Fireplaces are lit and curtains are drawn over windows, further encapsulating us into the smaller universe of winter.

I love this time of year.  Thanks to the very wet summer we’ve had here in the southern United States, the trees turned their leaves into a blazing show of yellows and oranges and reds before being stripped by the strong winds of cold fronts now pushing their way across the country.  And with the coming of winter there’s the anticipation of Christmas.

I know what I said in my last post may have been understood as a declaration of apathy towards Christmas, but that’s truly not the case.  I love Christmas; or rather, I love what Christmas has come to mean to me as I’ve gotten older.  How I’ve come to view the “most wonderful time of the year” has changed significantly over time, as I’m sure it has for most people.

For a long time after I knew there was no Santa Claus (spoilers!), Christmas was about trying to recapture a little of the childish excitement I felt on the run up to the Big Day.  I would think about those feelings and try to manufacture them, with varying success.  In High School I sang in the choir and the Christmas performances were special, but I remember that I always felt a little let down when Christmas morning finally arrived.  Eventually I realized that my expectations were too high, being, as they were, founded on a childhood memory of wonder untempered by time and experience.

And then an unthinkable tragedy would for years dampen any joy I felt at Christmastime.  The evening I arrived home from college for Christmas break my sophomore year, my whole family was waiting for me around the kitchen table.  My parents told me that three boys I knew, two of them brothers, had died in a freak accident the day before.  They had been sitting in a running car whose exhaust system was faulty, and they all died of carbon monoxide poisoning.  It was horrible, and senseless.  That Christmas was totally overshadowed by incredible loss – we had known the brothers well, as our families were very close.  That year, and for the next few years, we just went through the motions at Christmas, unable to connect with the joy of the season in the face of so much grief.  To this day I think about that family at this time of year and pray for their continued peace.

After my parents divorced the year I graduated from college, Christmas again took on a different aspect.  Suddenly the possibility that my whole family would be together again was gone forever, and that idea took a lot of getting used to.  Actually it pissed me off, and thus began the next few years of trying to avoid the thing altogether.  I didn’t handle it well, and I know I hurt my mother in particular with my need to not be around during the holidays.  For some time Christmas was a reminder of grief and loss to me, and I found any way I could to engage in as little of it as possible.  I may have been there physically, but emotionally I was far away.  And I would physically remove myself as soon as I could, which was incredibly selfish and something I regret now.

There were a few odd pockets of joy in those otherwise depressed years.  One crystal memory happened my senior year in college.  I came back to my off-campus apartment as early as I could after Christmas, as much to get out of the house as to spend some time with my boyfriend before the semester started.  My roommate knew when I was coming back, but her plans took her home just as I was arriving, so we were going to miss each other, which I was sad about.  When I pulled into the driveway it was dark outside, and there was an odd glow of light coming from the living room.  I walked in to find that my roommate had bought and decorated a Christmas tree and had left it lit up for me.  In the kitchen was a plate of freshly baked cookies, and there was a bottle of Champagne in the fridge.  My roommate knew how hard Christmas had been for me, and this was her gift – a small, quiet Christmas, just for me.  Later as I sat on the couch with my boyfriend and we looked at the tree and listened to music and drank Champagne and ate cookies and talked, I felt a sense of peace and some of the joy I had been missing.  There were still many joyless Christmases to come, but the gift of that moment stayed with me and helped me through a lot of sad days.  I can never express to her how profoundly important that little tree was, and still is, to me.

In time the pain of the loss of my friends and the fracturing of my own family faded and I began to rebuild my connection to the Christmas season.  Working on a production of “A Christmas Carol” certainly helped; it’s hard to stay down when Tiny Tim asks that “God bless us, everyone” on a nightly basis for two weeks.  And it was during the Christmas season one year that I began to realize that the attraction I felt for a certain actor was something deeper; we kept running into each other at holiday parties and more than once became so lost in conversation that everyone else left before we tore ourselves away.  This is the man who would eventually become my husband, and who would finally restore my love of Christmas, as we together have built new traditions.

In the original version of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (the one released in 1965), Charlie Brown bemoans the rampant commercialization of Christmas.  He is bothered by his inability to get into the spirit of the season until Linus recites the story of the angels announcing the birth of Jesus to the shepherds in Bethlehem.  In an amazing twist of irony, the later version of the show removed this scene; I wonder if the studio people who made that decision realized what they had done.  At any rate I was glad to see the original version restored, for sentimental reasons if nothing else, but it struck me hard that this show, written almost fifty years ago, was concerned that we the people were forgetting the true meaning of Christmas in the flurry of all the modern trappings.  So what we’re experiencing now isn’t new at all; I’m sure every generation feels as if the spiritual roots of the holiday (the Holy Day) are losing ground to the wholly secular pursuit of enforced merriment and corporate profit.  I can identify with Charlie – I just don’t get it.

That’s why I am so enamored by the tradition of the Advent season.  I didn’t grow up in a church that recognized the liturgical calendar, so Advent is a new thing for me since we’ve started hanging out with the Lutherans.  I understand it to be a period of reflection, and self-examination, and longing.  It is the quiet time that comes before the burst of celebration for the coming of the Christ.  The music of this season is “O Come O Come, Emmanuel”, not “Joy to the World”; that comes later.  It is preparation, and the celebration of the small things that bring us joy.  It is at its core an alternative to the frenzy of our modern Christmas, and I find that I am drawn to it more and more.

Christmas is no longer an emotional fireworks display for me.  Instead, it is a deeply meaningful celebration of life, and love, and family, and friends.  It is the memory of the joy of Christmases past, the comfort of Christmas present, and the anticipation of Christmases yet to come.  It is the excitement in a child’s eyes, and the warmth of a loved one’s touch.  It is the comfort of traditions that evolve as we grow and change.  The trimmings are fun – the music, the movies, the gifts given and received, the endless parade of goodies – but these things are temporary.  They provide entertainment, not Joy.  It took me a long time to fully appreciate the difference.

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Thanks for reading my blog!  If you want to know more about me and my journey, check out my book “Everyday is Saturday” on Kindle.  The book is part diary, part memoir, about the first year after I was laid off from my dream job.  I think it has something to say to anyone who is struggling with change.

photo credit: Creativity+ Timothy K Hamilton via photopin cc

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One response to “A Small, Quiet Christmas

  1. Carolie says:

    YES. Emphatically yes. I love the longing, the yearning, the hopeful waiting in darkness for the light. I love the reflection and “centering” and calm of Advent. I do think there are many TV specials and movies that attempt to remind us of “the true meaning of Christmas,” but I think Schultz got it right so many years ago.

    Like

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