My relationship with the holiday season has changed markedly as I have grown older. Childhood was filled with anticipation, excitement, and awe. Young adulthood was a mixture of feeling special to be included in parties and events, and sensitivity to being excluded from gatherings. In my single years, the holidays were excuses for gluttony, indulgence, and other deadly sins, followed by having to pay off the credit cards in the New Year.
When my husband’s children had their children, the holidays were a mixture of obligatory family gatherings, deep pride in the accomplishments of his kids, and gratitude (relief?) when we were able return to our routine. Now, as a widow, no longer having family of my own nearby, I find myself delighting in friendships that have seen me through many of these phases and continue to bring me solace and joy.
Music still moves me the most. As a child of the 50’s, the annual Christmas Concert (dominated by Christian music with a brief nod toward Judaism and no recognition of any other belief system) reinforced the values of a nation that knew it was Blessed by God and Deserving of those Blessings. Now I sing along with Bing and Perry and Barbra, hum where I don’t know or remember the words to “Carol of the Bells”, belt out “Fall on your knees” and still laugh when I listen to “Grandma Got Run over by a Reindeer”. Truth be told, I have more sympathy for Grandma now than I did years ago when I heard Patsy and Elmo sing it live.
The liturgical music also transports me. “Stille Nacht” can bring me to tears. “Gloria in excelsis Deo” fills my soul. The “Alleluia Chorus”, sung professionally and in amateur choruses everywhere reminds me that we can come together out of many reasons, and join as one voice.
Because of my age, this season now reflects a change in balance from looking forward to new traditions to reminiscing and cultivating the traditions I remember and hold dear. One of my most precious memories is recalling my mother reading Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” to me at bedtime. Clement Moore’s “T’was the Night Before Christmas” was also well-thumbed and memorized. As I grew older, Dylan Thomas’ “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” was added to the reading list. Each of these stories contains nuggets of wisdom about being generous, kind, paying attention to the details, and believing in magical possibilities. As someone without children, I have no one to pass these stories on to. Yet, I have such an urge to do this.
Advertisers rarely pitch my demographic, so I am unburdened by the demand to buy toys or electronics or cars or, for some strange reason, mattresses. Instead, I find myself reminiscing about Perry Como, Bing Crosby and Andy Williams Christmas Specials, watching White Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street, and It’s A Wonderful Life.
I tear up with Charlie Brown and that sad little Christmas tree. My tree, no longer “live”, lights up a corner of the living room, provides shelter for my aging cat, and contains decades of memories triggered by ornaments.
While this season elevates the Christian tradition, it is not limited to Christ’s birth. This is also Solstice, Hanukah, Eid, and Diwali (to mention but a few). Within each of these traditions are found the universal themes of wrestling with being overwhelmed, experiencing judgment and shame, seeking comfort and compassion and receiving it, unexpectedly, from strangers. Inevitably, the light returns with its warmth and reminds us that we have little influence over nature and are constrained to the rhythm of the earth in spite of our imagination.
This time of year I seek confirmation that the darkness will turn to light and reassurance that I, along with all, am deserving of miracles. May this season bring you light and warmth. May you feel loved and freely express your love to others. May your fears and longing be replaced with joy and connection.
Thank you for reading.