The magic of the holiday season is upon us.
For most of my peer group, this week will be marked by Thanksgiving celebrations among family and friends. Turkey and ham and pies will undoubtedly fill my social media timeline, amid football scores and successful hunts. November in the south is a marvelous time of year. In a culture who embraces tradition, the annual events that mark the holiday season are as comfortable as they are familiar. My heart will never grow tired of pecan pies or camouflage or measuring seasoning in egg shells—following the generational recipes that my great-grandmothers passed down. In many ways, Thanksgiving is my favorite time of year, a time where the world pauses to celebrate being thankful for this year’s blessings over comfort food. It is simple and pure.
But following Thanksgiving, the Christmas season begins. Where Thanksgiving earns the title of preferred holiday, Christmas the past few years has arguably represented the opposite. Where I celebrate the things in my life I am thankful for in November, December is often marked by the absence of things I have not yet accomplished. December is a reminder for better or worse that I am both growing older (birthday) and that I am alone.
As I blossomed into adulthood, there were visions I held inside my mind for how my life would be, dreams I had set aside that represented how I wanted my life to feel. Christmas was a large part of that vision. Growing up, I remember making Christmas candy. Martha Washington’s and chocolate fudge and decorating sugar cookies. These were traditions that had imprinted on me as a child, and in the earnest desire of starting my own family I had this notion that I would know I had proverbially arrived when my kitchen was dressed ceiling to floor with flour and royal icing. I could see Maggie (the chocolate lab) scavenging broken cookies and rogue sprinkles, with sticky little hands decorating the most disastrously ugly cookies that Santa perhaps had ever seen.
But that night, amidst the chaos of a dirty kitchen, there would be a plate of milk and cookies for Santa sat out of reach of the dog by the mantle where the stockings were hung with care. Just like my dad read to us the The Night Before Christmas, I too would carry on that tradition. Before sending the anticipating little minds to bed, only to be woken up in the wee hours by the same scampering feet—all giggles piling into my bed exclaiming with great joy that Santa had indeed come in the night.
Like the Grinch, my heart grows three sizes thinking about the shredding of paper and the shrieks of delight on Christmas morning. All of us, begrudgingly as they got older, in matching pajamas enjoying the spoils of the holiday season. Leaving the mess for as long as it suited them, knowing that as the years passed by they would play less—so for the years their joy was palpable I would remind myself with ease to let the mess go and to build the train set or the doll house and worry about the trash later. There would be waffles and hot chocolate and hopefully family that would flow in and out of the house.
This would be my Christmas. This would be the highlight of the years of small children and this would be the time of my life that I would flip through as the years slipped by and recall with such fondness. I had believed that Christmas mornings in my thirties would be quite simply the most wholesome and innocent of my life.
Reality indeed had other plans.
I have not lamented this condition because for 48 weeks of the year being childless certainly has its perks: there is no stomach flu, no endless piles of laundry, practices to shuffle to or parent-teacher conferences to attend. I sleep in on weekends and I travel and I live a lifestyle that is carefree. One that many of my friends with children remark that I should be grateful for and I no doubt am.
But the reality remains that my carefree lifestyle grinds to a sudden halt during this season. For many years now, I have left Christmas decorations packed neatly away in the closest. I could still enjoy the season through holiday parties and through celebrations with family and friends, but I didn’t need to go to sleep staring at stockings that Santa would have no part in. I cannot speak for everyone, but the magic of Christmas is best experienced through the innocence and joy of children. With that core component of wonder missing, Christmas has indeed mostly felt like a commercialized chore.
Indeed, alone in my cave with my dog, I have been at risk for turning into the Grinch. I have felt my heart becoming smaller through the years, content to sweep through December and not be reminded of the dreams that did not manifest. Content to forget Christmas, while being mostly annoyed at the demands this time of year brings: from shopping to travel to complicated schedules. Christmas was all work and no play, and for the most part I was content to just survive it.
And I had decided on that plan again this year.
Until the haunting thought creeped into my mind: what if this is all the Christmas I will ever have? What if while I am sullenly waiting on my Christmas wish to come to life—I am spoiling the gifts of Christmas present? Worse yet, what if the years continue to pass and I wake up one day and realize that I have missed the Christmases of my life clinging to an ideal that never materialized? What if I wasted all my Christmases?
Sure, at 31 this is not the life I had imagined. But does that make it any less meaningful? Perhaps my home is not filled with children of my own, but my life is filled with people I love. I only get one Christmas of 2018. Am I content to sit with my grief instead of living in celebration? That does not align with my core values in other areas of my life. I have not yet once decided in any other facet of my life that because my plans had changed that I would simply stop living with joy. So why am I allowing myself to sabotage Christmas?
‘You are being dumb,’ I told myself. And much like Dr. Seuss’s Grinch, I puzzled until my puzzler was sore and concluded that Christmas perhaps is not tied to a singular, linear dream. Perhaps the spirit of Christmas is found in the joy of celebration and giving and time together, and suddenly a holiday which has historically made me feel profoundly alone was less hostile. I am surrounded by love here and in this season I find that worthy of celebration.
For the first time in four years, I unpacked Christmas decorations. I put up a tree, before Thanksgiving, heaven help us. I made a list of things I would accomplish this holiday season from cookies to giving to parties to cards and pictures. I have an ugly sweater on order and I am intent on winning the white elephant exchange.
And so even if I will quietly hope that my dream of Christmas morning someday will be fulfilled, for now I am content to celebrate Christmas 2018 within the life I have now.
I can sleep in AND make waffles.
Even Santa is jealous of that.