This year, as others in our neighborhood put up their lights before Thanksgiving, Kane asked if we could start decorating too.
“Oh honey, we don’t put up our Christmas decorations until after Thanksgiving,” I responded. Which really means that I can’t possibly handle another holiday until the one I’m focused on has come and gone.
“Then can we put them up the day after Thanksgiving?” he countered. And insisted that we do just that.
As we were decorating the tree that day, I thought about how burdened I felt about Christmas this year. I was doing all of it with a sense of obligation because I have an 8-year-old child who loves Christmas (we affectionately refer to him as the Holiday Cheermeister), but I wasn’t feeling any of it. In fact, all I could feel was the overwhelming suffocation of another December ahead.
My mother passed away in February 2015. She was last in my house on Christmas Day 2014, and in her own home for not much longer. Shortly after the holidays, she and my father went back to St. Louis for what would be her final hospital stay.
Last year — the first year that she wasn’t with us — I powered through the holidays in an effort to keep some semblance of normal for us and to make sure that my family, and most importantly my dad and my son, didn’t feel her loss as acutely. It’s not like we didn’t all feel it. There is something vastly barren about a holiday without someone you love. But I still felt like I was doing my part to cushion the emotional blow.
This year, however, was the first year that I questioned why we do any of it. What’s the meaning? What’s the purpose? How do I bring joy to the holidays when I don’t feel it inside?
I wanted to feel joy, but instead I felt very much like the Grinches we bring out each year. My sister has gifted me a few stuffed Grinches and a musical one over the years that Kane has filched. I always hang a Grinch ornament at the top of our tree. Kane now likes to kick off our holiday season watching the Jim Carrey version of How The Grinch Stole Christmas. And as of this year, he’s also memorized the Dr. Seuss story in its entirety.
For the longest time, I’ve loved the Grinch. There is almost no other holiday character that brings me such unadulterated joy. I’ve never really analyzed my love for this fabulous, green, hairy dude, but if I were to, I think it’s because he is the ultimate symbol of both inner transformation and repentance. Right before our eyes, as he finally understands what gratitude is, he literally becomes love embodied.
I mean, his heart grows three sizes! It doesn’t just grow two sizes from shriveled and puny to typical heart size. It grows one more burst-out-of-his-chest size so that he can absolutely not control expressing his love and newfound generosity of spirit to the Whos in the town below. And thankfully, he is met with their forgiveness. That is grace in action.
As we were decorating the tree, and I was hanging the Grinch ornament and relating to his pre-heart-tripling state, I got a nudge within my own that said, “Do it anyway. It’s okay to feel sadness, but also practice gratitude. You will find your Christmas spirit.”
So, I did. Instead of the minimalist Christmas I was envisioning because I didn’t know if I had the desire or energy to do anything else, I dug out ALL the decorations, including two Christmas villages and a Nativity scene that I’d inherited from my grandmother. Jeff knows it’s serious business when they come out. He grumbles a little because they eat up all the surface space in our house, and he’s convinced that the lighted village is a fire hazard so he also notes where the fire extinguisher is “just in case.”
I also recorded so many Christmas movies that Jeff started complaining about not being able to find anything he’d recorded amidst them. I planned the school and community Christmas events that we’d attend. I ordered and sent Christmas cards. I planned the Christmas cookie baking sessions. I did it in a way that felt balanced from week to week, and not overwhelming.
And then, in typical Grinch fashion, I puzzled till my “puzzler was sore” over where to put the final decoration. It was a Santa wall hanging that my mom quilted and my dad gave me this year. I know she spent hours on every one of her creations, painstakingly deciding on the colors, shapes, stitching patterns, and extra flourishes like the beads she picked for Santa’s eyes. I especially love this one because it has a touch of whimsy and magic in it, and my mom loved both the whimsical and magical in life. But I honestly didn’t know where to hang it. It was a decoration that I felt I needed to see frequently, but every logical wall was taken by other art.
About a week into December, as I was walking up the stairs from my office, I saw the spot. On one side of the stairs was a wall that was visible from both upstairs and down, and one that I would pass multiple times a day. It was the perfect place.
My hope for you this season is that, no matter what and how you celebrate, you find moments of gratitude, glimmers of joy, bits of whimsy, and elements of magic, whether they’re in the form of a character, decoration, movie, song, event, ceremony, service, or simply a special memory. And above all, I hope that you find peace and love in your heart that leads to your own inner transformation.
Best wishes for a beautiful December and a blessed new year. XOXO