Life is but a vapor.
I sit here with such a weight on my chest, reading about a father who died suddenly in his sleep the other night…and another family whose car rolled off a mountain road, killing the parents and sending the two children to ICU…and countless other families walking through chronic illness or deployment or estrangement or just being far away from loved ones.
Christmas time is bittersweet for many families.
I woke to a phone ringing from Maryland on New Year’s Day 1994.
One morning, my grandmother didn’t wake up. She was discovered by a neighbor several days later. She lived lonely alone. I hadn’t seen her for two years, since my father had a fight with her.
Christmases were always tainted with walking on eggshells around my father.
Christmas Eves were spent at my aunt’s house, surrounded by cousins, nervous whispers in corners. I never knew what was going on, who was mad at who or why.
My father chose to stay home while I was whisked out into the chill evening wearing my overpriced Christmas dress and patent leather shoes alongside my mom and paternal grandma to eat ham and potato salad and watch all the cousins open their gifts.
This was their entire holiday celebration. I still had Christmas morning to look forward to.
But there was always something negative lurking in the corners that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
For many, it is “always winter but never Christmas.”
But it doesn’t have to be. And we should protect the children from the endless bitterness of cold, hard winter.
Christmas wants you: “Winter has begun to melt away, I have broken through at last – long live the true King!”
Kids are often oblivious to the negativity.
Thank God they often don’t know the horrors of the world or the sorrows of adults.
Kids see the magic and glory of the lights. While we didn’t attend church and Jesus was an imaginary baby in storybook Bibles and a name at my grandma’s church.
I realize it doesn’t matter if the cookies look perfect. The presents under the tree don’t have to be all sorted perfectly (maybe that child has more this year but this child had lots last year, etc.) or wrapped with elegant mismatching paper, no seams showing. Bows are a waste of money. My haphazard decorations look like Christmas vomited all over the windowsill. I am no interior designer. Our tree never has themes – it has more handmade ornaments than designer trinkets and no twirling, swirling ribbon at all. No one will ever accuse me of having a house that looks like it’s out of a magazine (unless it’s Mad magazine.) We have no garland anywhere.
The kids don’t compare our house to others. They love the magic and will remember it as theirs.
Christmas memories will be about feelings and smells and tastes.
I want my children to remember the yummy prime rib and twice baked potatoes and not the spilled wine. I want them to remember the fuzzy pajamas and warm cocoa with Christmas stories around the twinkling Christmas tree. I don’t want the confusion of angry whispers and shots of Jack and stifled tears. No hiding behind masks. I want them to remember the snuggling while we read the Advent lessons every evening.
It’s ok that Christmas be bittersweet. It’s healthy to take the joy with the pain.
Like the song, Hard Candy Christmas:
“Lord, it’s like a hard candy Christmas
I’m barely getting through tomorrow
But still I won’t let
Sorrow bring me way down.”
It’s my job to protect my kids from the horrors of this world as long as I can, but also to prepare them to deal with the negative in a healthy way. I need to be a role model.
At the deep darkest time of the year – in cold winter (for half the world) – a Light was born in the darkness.
Let the Light shine.