“Add all the grief that people may bear, total the strife, the troubles and care.
Put them in columns and leave them right there, the peace of Christmas Day.” – John Denver
As this Christmas morning began, I have to admit I had let myself succumb to a foul spirit. As long as I’ve had Christmases, those Christmas’s have most often existed under the dark cloud of my mother’s mood, and this one is no different. Upset that I won’t sell her my car for half its value, and mapping out her other one-way expectations she likes to call the “special treatment” she should receive for being family (i.e. loans, gifts, rides, help, bills paid, utilities, help with rent, groceries, etc. etc.), my mom refused to spend Christmas with me this year. She will not even speak to me, or return any of my efforts to speak to her.
It is atypical for her to even get us gifts in recent years but, this year, she threw some gifts in a box and mailed them to me as message of guilt and an un-invitation to her home. And though I should have grown accustomed to it by now (and have in many ways), there are times where an almost child-like abandon comes over me, as I suddenly can’t believe all-over-again that a mom would act this way towards her children.
I was introduced to the idea of creating my own destiny in my early 20’s, when a mentor suggested to me that I avoid the pain and disappointment of my family’s angry holidays by accepting the invitation of a close friend to attend her family’s celebration. The idea of purposefully leaving my family and celebrating as part of someone else’s seemed impossible: I knew the wrath and consequences I’d receive once home, I knew I’d feel out of place amongst people I didn’t know and I felt just so utterly selfish considering it.
But as the day neared, and my mom exploded venomously with anger at my dad and his family, spewed a lack of appreciation for the gifts we were planning to give and basically began pre-planning the upsets of that year, my courage began to grow.
I let my family know I’d be spending Christmas elsewhere. And I joined my friend, Sara’s, family in theirs.
The experience was surreal… and incredibly difficult.
As if ripped from a Dickens novel, this family gathers around a feast, each person with their own individual cornish game hen served on fine china, candles lit in the chandelier above, the good reverend father saying grace after completing the evening’s service, mom playing Christmas carols on the piano, and everyone smiling, laughing and is so deeply grateful for the simplest of gifts… openly grateful for each other and for the time spent together.
It was so utterly beautiful… so utterly welcoming. And I burst into tears on my way home in the deepest of pain, because I’d never known anything like it. I was overwhelmed by the rush of feelings that came over me, as I’d now experienced the peaceful holiday I’d always wanted growing up and came face to face with all that I’d been missing. I was struck and embarrassed by how out of place I felt. And I felt so guilty for leaving my dad behind, as he seems to long for that “family holiday”, as well.
I was convinced that, surely, I wouldn’t be invited back to their home. This was all so foreign to me, and I was certain that I’d stuck out as mannerless, God-less and all-sorts-of confused, their traditions so different than my own.
But twelve years later, Sara referred to me, tonight, as “Aunt” to her darling daughter. I have a stocking over their fireplace. They have presents for me under the tree from my favorite store. They run to greet me at the door and show such excitement that I am there.
And the absolute depths of the gratitude I feel towards them, towards this day, makes tears of deep happiness stream down my face. To be reminded that I really do have a bigger “family” out there… (aside from my father, who is my rock, my grace, and is wonderful support)… and to truly feel part of them it is the best Christmas gift I could ever receive.
I almost sat out this holiday with Sara’s family simply due to the angst I felt this morning. But I see, now, that these challenges are put into place as a contrast to show just how good the good things in life are.
And tonight I feel so, so lucky. I have this annual “random act of kindness” that makes my holiday so deeply meaningful. I had a wonderful Christmas Eve Chinese-restaurant dinner with my father and spent the night, tonight, watching shows with him.
And I think my gratitude is made so much stronger, because I have the knowledge of what holidays can be… how absolutely lonely, challenging or outright hard.
If this speaks to you, and you’re facing anything hardships at all this holiday season, please make a commitment to yourself to not go through those same struggles again. Fix conflicts with people. Seek out people. Dare to spend holidays with friends. Take trips, volunteer or host next year.
Peace is found when you’re true to yourself, chase what you want and create your own destiny. One of the hardest and most meaningful lessons I’ve ever learned.