As a kid I dreaded Christmas, that’s hard to believe, but it’s true. I was nine when I had my last Christmas with my Dad on the farm. Because he was a retired Lt. Colonel, they helicoptered him home one last time from Madigan Medical Center at Fort Lewis Army Base to our horse ranch in Oregon. He was very ill, rail thin, and on oxygen, and died a few weeks later.
There are photos of the two of us together. I am pale and held closely in his arms. There were more presents than necessary. Wrapped gifts covered most of our living room, and that was just the start. Dolls and toys were delivered by Santa again on Christmas morning.
This is one of those memories that is almost intolerable to think about. After my father died, my mother would sit in front of our Christmas tree playing Christmas music in the dark all through the holidays. If this is a tradition, than it was ours, and it was a sad one.
No matter where in the world I was, as soon as I saw the lights go up and the decorations hit the stores I would cringe internally. As luck would have it, my birthday also fell in the middle of the month of December, and it was never without a depressing gloom. My mother would insist on putting up the Christmas tree for my birthday. As the decorations and lights gave me nothing but an anxiety attack, I insisted this was unwelcome, but she persisted.
No matter what we did or where we went the holiday dread surrounded my family growing up. We were never without countless beautiful gifts however, in fact, I could have anything I wanted growing up, clothes, bikes, record players, or even a car. Money was never an issue, but there wasn’t enough money in the world to make Christmas something to cherish and look forward to. It was simply a painful season filled with ghosts and memories that I would literally have to white knuckle my way through.
This went on well past my college years, and eased up only slightly, when I moved to San Fransisco and would host Christmas dinner at my flat in Russian Hill.
When I had my own children, I realized I had to solve my personal Christmas dread issue. I turned to the church and my home was less about Santa and more about the story of the birth of Jesus. My children sang in the Children’s Christmas Choir at our Catholic church, they were also in the Christmas Eve play, as sheep or angels. We didn’t miss a Christmas Eve mass. I also insisted that we give them only five presents. Unwrapped and from Santa. I didn’t want to buy their joy. I wanted everything to have meaning. We developed many happy traditions. Then, we moved them all to our second home in Tahoe when the kids were six and eight. White Christmas’ on the ski slopes and mass in Truckee and dinner at Bar of America after, skiing on Christmas Day with friends, then homemade ricotta gnocchi and ravioli’s made with my Italian pasta machine, stuffed and cut by hand.
Yet, still the sadness of the season persisted for me. It wasn’t until I started to really look for the beauty of the season and shifted my perspective, from getting through it to embracing it, did things start to shift for me. I think this year, even though things are far from perfect, has been my favorite year. I had a lovely birthday, celebrating with my beautiful children and friends. It had a magical quality that I was sincerely grateful for. Every day since then, has been full of laughter and fun. We had a small family Christmas party with a handful of loved ones that was full of happiness and joy.
My girls are happy and I am happy. I am looking forward to this beautiful Christmas week, our days are filled with magic, and there is no better time to embrace them then now.
Love and Blessings to all.