Redefining Christmas

I’m sitting in my living room this evening feeling grateful for the little things. All day, I’ve been trying to be okay with Christmas being different now, and not really knowing what that even means or what Christmas will look like from now on. This is the first year of celebrating Christmas without my parents and without their house as the center of our family get-togethers. Last year doesn’t count because we were too busy getting ready to sell their house, which involved so much work that it still makes my head spin when I think about it. On top of all that, I was sick with a really bad cold, so my adult children spent Christmas with their dad.

This year is different.

Our circa 1840 house is really small and cannot even begin to accommodate a small family gathering that includes a toddler who spends every waking hour exploring. My daughter, who lives with little Ava in a small apartment an hour away, doesn’t have a car. So the solution we came up with is to have our family celebration at the home of my ex-husband and his girlfriend (who live close to my daughter) so we all can be together in a space that can host a holiday celebration that includes a very active toddler. 

For the most part, those in my small family circle aren’t buying gifts this year, and that’s okay. It’s not too different from any other year, and it’s not just about financial circumstances because values are also a factor. I’ve never been into the consumer aspect of Christmas and would always make most of the gifts for my children or give them art materials. Christmas wasn’t so much about the presents as it was about being together. My favorite Christmases were when I had the kids for Christmas Eve, and we’d have a dinner movie theater in the living room. I’d make our favorite holiday foods from a menu we created together, and we’d watch a few Christmas movies and (in the earlier years) track Santa’s whereabouts.

This year, I mostly want to give the gifts of food, art, and creativity materials, but I’m feeling like there’s still so much to do with only one more day until Christmas because the snow and ice we’ve had for the past two days put a damper on shopping for missing ingredients and supplies. But the down time has given me a chance to pause, reflect, and simplify my expectations for what I can accomplish in the next 24 hours. 

My mom was the one who made Christmas feel like a really festive occasion, a big deal. She loved buying presents, decorating their house and two Christmas trees (one real, one artificial). My mom was the spirit of Christmas in our family! For the most part, the store-bought gifts and larger ticket items (such as American Girl dolls) were under the tree at my parents’ house. 

But that’s not the case anymore, and my lack of consumerism really shows now because my mom isn’t around to cover for me! I feel some pressure (coming from nobody but me, of couse) to carry on my mom’s spirit of Christmases past. But without a home that can accommodate a family gathering, no space for a Christmas tree, and a very modest budget this year, it’s not realistic – and it’s also not me. A portion of my parents’ Christmas decorations are in boxes in my storage unit, but I don’t even have space to display them. 

I’m trying to be okay with this – with Christmas looking very different than it used to.

Earlier today, I spoke with my daughter to firm up holiday plans and told her I’m more interested in presence than presents but feel I should do more to make Christmas even a little more like it was when my parents were alive. She told me she was feeling guilty about not being able to buy presents for anyone except Ava. Seems we were both falling into the trap of thinking what we could do wasn’t enough.

We reminisced about Christmases when my parents were alive, and then she told me she can’t remember the presents she received at my parents’ house but remembers the feeling of everyone being together. We agreed that is what Christmas is really about. And we agreed to be gentle with ourselves and not put pressure on ourselves to do any more than we can do. 

In past years, I recall seeing lots of posts and pictures on social media of friends having big holiday celebrations complete with beautifully decorated trees and lots of presents. This year I’m on a 30-day Facebook fast and probably will avoid Instagram for a few days around Christmas, as well. It’s nice to see smiling faces and families celebrating together, but it’s still a sensitive time of year for me as I adjust to not having my parents or their house in the picture.

But let’s not allow our expectations for Christmas (or life in general) to be influenced by social media images. There is another reality.

Every day I work at the library, I’m in contact with many people who are homeless, and they keep my ideas about what Christmas “should” be like in check. They remind me of how much I have, even if it doesn’t look like much compared to the Facebook pictures and my assumptions of how other families live and celebrate. I realize that just showing up and being together is enough. It’s not the presents. It’s the presence that matters most. And we should be really grateful for everyone who can come together and celebrate with us. Thank God my daughter survived the car accident she was in over the summer and is alive and able to celebrate with us. 

There is a library patron who reminds me of my dad. He’s 88 years old, and we have developed a special bond. It makes me so happy to see his face light up when we interact.  Last week, he gave me advice about running cold water at the end of a shower, to close my pores. The only other person who ever told me that was my dad. I know little bits and pieces of this man’s story and am eager to learn more. Yesterday, he told me that a female relative (a cousin, I believe) invited him for Christmas, and he was happy she did because otherwise he would have spent Christmas alone. I had no idea! A week ago, I gave him one of my calendars along with a card referring to him as my favorite library patron, and now I’m thinking that might be one of the only gifts he will receive – which makes me so glad I gave it to him!

I’ve been thinking of him a lot today and am appreciating that I have family to be with on Christmas. Many people don’t. It can be difficult for divorced parents who alternate holidays to not celebrate with their children on the actual holiday. The years when we can spend the holidays together are special and not to be taken for granted. It doesn’t matter if you have a tree or any gifts under it. It’s the togetherness that counts. 

So please enjoy the company of your loved ones, and don’t put stress on yourself to have your holiday celebrations be anything more than what they are. Being together with whoever is able to show up is the greatest gift of the season. Anything beyond that is icing on the cake. 

May your holidays be filled with gratitude and love. And may you focus more on the love than any absences, and more on what you have than what you don’t. May you find a sweet perfection in what is.

© 2017 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this article, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (SusanTaraMeyer.com) is a photographer, writer, clutter coach, feng shui consultant, and mindfulness teacher whose work is infused with a deep interest in the nature of mind and appreciation of the natural world. She lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

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