“This is the message of Christmas: We are never alone.” – Taylor Caldwell
The Advent season this year had its ups and downs for me. During the first week in December, I seemed to have two weeks of activity packed into one. I enjoyed a dinner and trolley ride with my local Women’s Club, a Christmas walk where I toured beautiful homes decorated for Christmas, a post-Thanksgiving pot luck, two Advent teas, a Worldwide Marriage Encounter potluck/meeting, and a birthday party for a friend. It was a fun week but I probably did too much.
I spent the next week or more resting because of a heavy cold. I slept 11 hours a night, which is much more than my usual, and did little during the day.
During this time, I rather compulsively read Christmas cozy fiction and mysteries. Finally I asked myself, “What am I avoiding by all this reading? Why do I keep reading books that show me how others do Christmas?”
At first, I thought I had nostalgia for Christmases past that never quite lived up to the extravagant traditional Christmas as depicted by authors including Charles Dickens. Dancing, plum pudding, and caroling were part of these fictional Christmases. My favorite story is “A Christmas Carol,” where Scrooge goes being from a mean miser to being the happiest of men who celebrated Christmas and became a friend to all he met.
But I realized my melancholy was actually because of having lost too many loved ones. My parents, my husband’s parents, our grandparents, and three close friends have all passed on. I also know three people who passed away just before Christmas this year – my sister-in-law’s father, our church’s beloved deacon, and a 48-year-old woman from my women’s club.
A friend told me she’d be spending Christmas Eve with her kids and other relatives and Christmas Day with her parents and her aunt. When I responded, “That sounds nice,” she said, “Whoop-di-do! Spending Christmas day with old people.” I know, and she probably knows, that someday she will miss these quiet holidays spent with “old people.” We have to count the blessings we have, and sometimes we don’t realize our blessings until they are gone.
During this topsy-turvy Advent season, I also have had moments of gratefulness and joy. I feel gratitude for the beautiful family I have, for friends and relatives, even for where I live. One day near Christmas, I shopped at a nearby small city, and felt much gratitude for living where I do. My town is close enough to this small city where I can take advantage of its shops, restaurants, and river walk, while living nearby in a smaller town with less traffic.
My town also has a beautiful arboretum where I love to go and be rejuvenated by nature. We went there about a week ago for their holiday show at night, “Illuminations.” What a stunning display—I was proud to have it right in my own home town.
Christmas Eve began with my husband and me driving to a funeral while listening to Christmas carols, which felt surreal. We went to a second Mass with our children later that day – this time for Christmas. The two Masses each had an entirely different focus, but I felt at peace at both.
In a sense, our deceased loved ones were with us for the holidays. My family celebrated Christmas Eve with my husband’s extended family, and this is always a fun party. Ken’s parents hosted it in the past. We’d have a big feast and play a fun grab-bag game. His sister now hosts the event. His parents always made cheese blintzes – now Ken and I carry on that tradition.
On Christmas Day, Ken and I hosted dinner at our house for our family and my two sisters. Then we played 500 Rummy – just like we often did at family gatherings when my parents were alive. It was an epic game as it took us 24 rounds before someone got to 500, thus creating a new memory. We laughed as we imitated how my Dad used to play. Just for fun, he’d say, “These cards are marked!” and pound the table.
And so, we remember. We remember our loved ones and we carry on the love they had for us and the love we had for them.
God did not promise life would be one happy moment after another. But He did promise that He would be with us through it all. That is a lesson to be learned at Christmas. God is with us through all our ups and downs.
So let us remember the final words of “A Christmas Carol”. “It was always said of [Scrooge] that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless us, Every One!”
May God bless you and your loved ones, and may you be at peace.
Did you celebrate Christmas or another holiday recently? Please share your experience in the comments below.