December 26th – The Best Gifts Can’t be Wrapped

I woke up today with mixed emotions, feeling both blissful and crestfallen. I am immeasurably happy because of Christmas successes, yet slightly melancholy because the days unfolding in no way resembled what I had planned for it. This morning I am truly ecstatic over the gifts Santa left behind for me and the ones I watched others open with delight, but I am sorrowful over what I was unable to accomplish that I wanted to. Ah, the unwrapping of Christmas..

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Thinking back to 30 days ago, to the first yuletide thought I had, the one occurring directly after the turkey was put away on Thanksgiving, I have to chuckle at how December 25th this year was so unlike what I had planned for it. I remember taking out the bins of nutcrackers and other decorations and scattering them around the house on black Friday thinking, “Tis the season and this year it will be perfect.” After that, all I recall is putting one foot in front of the other until today.

The list I made for gift buying could never possibly accommodate all I would have liked it to because neither budget nor logistics allowed this year, but it held a few names of people to whom homage had to be paid because of the light and love they share with us all throughout the year.

Soon after the quest began for the right and perfect trinkets which would say, “You matter” on this most sacred holiday, I had to hide the packages from our crazy paper chewing cat so that he wouldn’t destroy the corners of all the boxes and gift bags. I have come to believe he does this to somehow be part of the holiday bustle that goes on in our household. Each time I added another package to the pile, I touched the others in hopeful excitement that it would be perceived with the same spirit it was wrapped in.

Today, the wrapping paper which was crinkled in delight yesterday, now fills our recycle bins to overflowing. Our bellies are substantially rounder, at least in this house, and the day is over. But my heart has a tad of unfinished processing still needing to happen, which is why I must write about it.

Christmas this year involved an effort of accommodation which made it awkward to know where we could be and how we would possibly do it all. In my efforts to appreciate all of my family, I made a choice to honor my husband’s hectic work schedule and so, postponed travel plans up north. My son and I agreed that a slightly later celebration together would be just as cool. I also decided to say, “W\e will be here whenever you come, don’t worry,” to my stepson who always makes the effort to see us. This statement of “whatever and whenever” quietly spoken to my husband in the midst of reshuffling our day was made with so much love that I now realize it became the best gift I could ever give anyone. I gave myself and my family the gift of being allowed to set aside expectations in our showing up for one another and to trust in our love this Christmas.

What is it about holiday expectation that creeps in and tries to wreak havoc? Why have I been compelled in the past to analyze the gestures of others and what they mean to my big picture? At what moment did I realize I needed to remove travel stress from my husband this year? How was I able to stay in the now yesterday and allow this Christmas to unfold the way it did? What grace do I experience in my relationship with my son that made it more than OK to postpone our gift giving slightly? How was I able to set plans aside to take pressure off my young stepson in a way he wouldn’t possibly understand until he has his own children? When did it become possible to trust that my friendships are intact enough to simply have to put my immediate family first yesterday?

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I have no explanation for any of it except to say that somewhere in the midst of all the Christmas planning and hoping, Christmas spirit took over and it became about simply being with the person that is my right and perfect Santa, the man who stands by my side always. It became about realizing what was truly best for our family.

Today, December 26th I am in awe of those who thought of me yesterday with calls, texts and presents. I am astonished at the kind invitations we received from people we love who love us back. Beyond that, I am filled beyond overflowing with gratitude for my family. Remembering all the hopes and dreams that came up for all of us over the twelve months past, the challenges we surmounted, the triumphs and accomplishments and the ways we have done our best to show our love, I am proud and blessed,

No, my Christmas did not go at all as I had planned it weeks ago. A few invitations could not be honored and a few others came out of the blue. Yet, it went perfectly. At about 11 PM I texted my son who was celebrating with his girlfriend’s family up in Connecticut. Within seconds his response came back, “To all a goodnight, I love you mom.” What a perfect way to end the day.

And all was right and good with the world as my head hit the pillow shortly after that text. And yet, when I reached over to hug my husband goodnight, the tears simply would not stop falling as he hugged me..

 

 

 

I Believe in the Magic of Christmas – and thank you Hallmark

So, what is it about the Hallmark Channel that comforts me so at holiday time? The families depicted in the movies are not without trials. There are widows and orphans, homeless folks, imposters, cranky scrooges, deadbeat dads, lost and weary travelers, business tyrants and the lot. So, what is it that draws me to these holiday movies?

Without a doubt, it is the happy-ending. The lost find their way. The wonderful family adopts the child. The dog finds a new owner. Neighbors rally and the star shines bright from the top of the tree every single time.

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In this hectic world with all too much madness, with too many media stories of chaos and cruelty, I need to see this holiday delight. It is my oxygen.

I turn off the shootings and muggings, the terrorism and the bullying, the slandering political campaigns and the sadness, and I turn on the light.

In the hustle and bustle of searching for the right and perfect gift, in the line waiting and the all too quick last minute wrapping, I need a pull back to the reason for all of it. I have to find reminders of the magic of Christmas. I have to believe that there is good in the world, that people truly care, and that many others out there want the best for one another too. I have to hold on to hope that there are believers, more than just me, who are tired of all the ugliness and who want to focus on the beauty within us all.

photoI have to trust in Santa the way my mom encouraged me to, so long ago. The way my little boy did when he flew down the stairs on Christmas morning for years. The way he still does today when he opens his gifts, knowing they come from a place of love. I must insist that a far away St. Nick is leading a sleigh full of reindeers to some believers somewhere. Yes, I believe in Santa, absolutely. So, thank you Hallmark for reiterating why I do, and for helping to stay in that magic for a little while.

P.S. my husband sometimes watches it with me, although he will never admit it. 🙂

Easter Past and Present

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Last Sunday was Easter – a day of rebirth and new beginnings. One of Spring blossoms, of fellowship, of celebration and honoring sacrifice. When I was young, Easter was a day of colored eggs, chocolate bunnies and jelly beans. A day of pastel outfits, anklet socks with ruffled edges and patent leather shoes. A day from which my sister and I took a small portion of the morning rushing around the house in search of tissues, mints and dimes to put in our Easter purses, the ones with the daffodil clasps, because we wanted them to be filled up like mom’s when we carried them to church.

It was a day of ham and sweet potatoes and green beans. Of taking an after lunch walk in all our finery because the weather was finally conducive, well usually anyway. And most of all, it was a day of family. Of saying thankful prayers and appreciating how blessed we were. When I think of Easter now, I truly think of rebirth and tulips and hope, but most of all I think of my mom. And then I think of how much I wish she was here to celebrate with. I also think of dad always insisting on a crudite platter at the Easter table, even though at the end of the meal we always put as much away as we had put out. It’s funny what I remember about holidays now.

This Easter, for some reason I still can’t fathom, I volunteered to go into the country club I work at for a few hours. I’m not sure why I did, but suffice it to say it was an experience in humility. Since my husband needed a few hours to sew up some April 15th accounting deadlines, we had turned down a few holiday invites. We decided that the two of us would celebrate Easter later in the day, so I had a free chunk of time. With it, I decided to help my friend, the Food and Beverage Manager who was short staffed that day.

I realized, after seeing all the families at the holiday brunch in their Easter finery, I had volunteered because I didn’t want too much time on my hands to long for Easter’s past. I didn’t want to miss my mom and dad or think about how to fill the void of “my” Easter bunny of so many long ago’s. I offered because I didn’t want to be sad about not being able to get up north to see my “little boy,” now a grown man, the boy I got to be the Easter bunny for, the same way mom had for me. Or about how much I loved taking him for his Easter outfit when he was young and even seeing how quickly he outgrew it each year.

I wanted to avoid the pit in my stomach if I reminisced about all the Easters when my siblings and I made our own individual piles of colored foil on the coffee table.  Foil from the now demolished chocolate eggs which had filled the crevices of each of our baskets and sometimes had to be untangled from under shredded grass. These baskets were always lined up in a row on the sideboard in the dining room, in order of our age – my oldest brother’s was always far left and my baby sister’s far right – each holding the exact same chocolate bunny.

Actually, the bunnies only started out the same on Sunday morning. By nightfall there were always marked differences. One or two would have been severely decapitated and others missing only small parts. Mine was always untouched at the end of the day, and for several afterwards because I liked to finish all the loose candy first. Actually, somehow I think I was trying to be different, to be kind to the chocolate figurine and to buy it some time.

Anyway, this Easter after I finished my “gig,” my husband and I went to celebrate our version of Easter. He had done his due diligence in his home office, leaving a few foil piles of his own from the basket I had left for him, and we went to play golf. We played 18 holes on what turned out to be a gloriously sunny afternoon and afterwards went for dinner at a local restaurant. We ate ice cream sundaes for dessert and followed them up with way too much chocolate back at home.

While we watched a bit of television before bed, I told him about the day. About how although the way I’d spent it had been an unusual holiday for me, I’d sincerely felt that I was of service. I told him about a conversation with Tom, one of my favorite members terminally ill with cancer. How we had talked openly and honestly about what was going on for him medically and how I had shared the largest bear hug I can remember having for ages. And finally about how after coming back from the dessert table with his plate piled high with cheesecake and petit fours, Tom had looked over and winked at me on his way back to his table. (I found out yesterday that Tom passed away Easter night and so, I was very glad I had been there to see him that day and to give him that bear hug).

And later, my husband and I went to bed on this Easter Sunday very full. Full of sweets and love and memories. Full of accomplishment. Full of gratitude (especially because of the perfect basket I’d received in the mail from my mother in law). Before he turned out the light, we each said, “I love you.” And then we decided that as much as the day had been blessed, next year we would both leave work for Monday, so that we could share the whole holiday with one another and with our family and friends.

Where The Heck Did Christmas Go?

It’s January 11th and I really hope Christmas gets here soon. Wait, Holy Crap, it came already didn’t it? Mother of God, I think I missed it!

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Eleven days into the New Year, I realize that I never caught its’ start. Trying to piece together the particulars of the last six weeks, I remember the latter days of November, when I decorated the little shop I work in with holiday ornaments mustered up from the stock room. I can summon up an image of eating a delicious turkey dinner on a grateful Thursday, and I recollect battening down the hatches, readying myself for the big Black Friday sale I was asked to host at work. I know I penned several holiday pieces for the few websites I now write for and gifts got wrapped, but after that it’s all a blur.

Sitting here today, one after the other visuals of me doing comes to mind:

-I’m standing in line at the US Post Office, arms full of items that I hope will be just right for their recipients. I have just taped my boxes at the counter, feeling thrilled because they are all slated to get to their destinations before Santa. The envelopes, with the holiday card, have just been stamped and are now ready to journey to family and friends far away, letting them know that we really do miss them.
-I am driving to the mall, while mapping out our upcoming road trip up north in my head. Mental notes are being filed about what we can do and who we hope to see along the way, as I search desperately for a parking space in all the holiday rush.
-I see us hiking in the mountains of North Carolina and ringing in the New Year in Times Square, as I am doggedly clearing invoices off my desk so that I don’t leave any unfinished business at work. So I won’t be missed. While I work, the mountains of homemade fudge and cookies that seem to be in unlimited supply these days are once again calling to me. My hope is that a few brisk walks on vacation will help me shed some of the L.B.s.

And the most glaring of all these visuals, the one that stands out the most in retrospect, is that of my head spinning the whole time, because I wanted everything to be perfect.

I wonder: Have you ever spent as much time as I did this December, working so hard to be all things holiday, trying so utterly to make it special for the people that you love, that you realize it all came and went without you? Was there ever a holiday in your life when you were so busy being busy because of all the pieces and parts you are juggling, so worried about what you would do and where you would be and who you would be with, that you had no time to stop and do and be in the middle of all of it?

Today, eleven days into this New Year I am hit with a revelation. Sometimes, I try so hard to get things right and to make memories, that I forget I don’t have to try at all, but simply be. I can wish I may and wish I might so much, that I lose sight of what the holidays are all about. In the middle of being invested in making them right and good, it is easy to forget that everything Christmas that matters is right here in my heart already and that all I need to do is to let it out. Once in awhile, I get so tired from being stretched so thin in all the trying, that I can lose my sense of why I am trying so hard in the first place. I forget that all the gifts and blessings I could ever give to anyone are already within my possession each and every day if I remember to honor them.

And so, as I go about this twenty four hours, present for whatever may come, if I encounter early Valentine’s Day cards out for display already, I will simply smile and remember just to bring love instead of frantically trying to get the right and perfect token to show it. Still, I might start planning for next Christmas now. It will be here in a minute anyway since it’s all going so fast. And that way, perhaps I will be able to stand still long enough to enjoy it all a bit more.