I still recall (with a cringe) the year my babies were little and I had a full-blown tantrum because I couldn’t get the preschooler to smile and the baby to look at the camera at the same time.
Rookie mistake. Never take Christmas card photos on empty bellies—babies’ or mama’s. Yet, look who threw the tantrum. It wasn’t the babies.
I also recall the year of my young boys in matching sweaters for yet another Christmas card photo. And I believe the number of possible backdrops I tried rivaled that of an Annie Liebowitz photo shoot. I think we visited every park in a 300-mile radius and finally settled on pics from one less than three miles from home.
Then there was the year I decided to make every single traditional dish from my childhood Christmas Eve celebrations —all while trying to feed and bathe two boys under eight and then welcome guests for a party. Let’s just say I learned to outsource some of the Julia Child duties to local chefs cooking in kitchens lacking children in small fire engines zooming around the prep island yelling “Wee yoo, wee yoo, WEE YOO.”
Any fellow Type A folks out there with me? Recognizing yourself in any of this?
The Universe decided to have a little fun with me by putting life on the spin cycle for a while. When I tumbled out the other end, I was divorced and financially supporting two kids. Working long hours. I’ve said it all before but for the newbies here, it’s all in my blog archives.
Anyhoo, I look back now and can smile at the crash course in “This Is Not a Martha Stewart/Goop/Ina Garten/Or Any Other Lifestyle and Holiday Guru Holiday–So Get Used to It Honey.” I got used to just making sure there were wrapped presents under the tree, no one smelled too badly, and my sons didn’t overdose on Ruffles or peppermint brownies before dinner.
I’ve always been a sentimental sap around the holidays. In my teens, I was generally the last one up on Christmas Eve because I was still basking in the glow of family, friends and the “perfect” Christmas party. In my twenties, I remember sitting in front of the tree in my Lincoln Park apartment, sipping hot chocolate and listening to carols as I addressed Christmas cards. I always felt the magic.
So here’s what I love about this story. It turns out, I didn’t need the perfect party, the perfect Christmas card photo or elaborate hors d’oeuvres to feel the magic.
I felt it when the ink had barely dried on my divorce agreement, as I worried about the smaller number of presents under the tree. I bought myself a glittery green pig ornament with wings to remind myself that while much in my life seemed possible only “when pigs fly,” they were sure as hell going to fly in the years ahead. I just knew it. I blogged about it in this very blog, which was all of maybe one month old. And then, somehow, my head was in the fireplace and well, that’s a long story but it turned out ok. You can read it here–and if you do, please “like” it because I think the seven people that did were the only seven people reading my nascent blog at the time. That lonely little post could use some love.
I felt it when I spent Christmas alone the year I was still getting over a breakup and didn’t want to spend a holiday with “intact” families who needed things to be “just so.”
I felt it the year we celebrated New Year’s Eve with friends in Palm Springs. As I walked from the main house to the guest house, I looked up at a sky so full of stars it looked like a glitter bomb had exploded in the sky. I’d had my fill of wonderful champagne, laughed until my stomach hurt, and I could just feel the good headed my way in the new year.
I learned, in the end, that the words my mother spoke often, “To whom much is given, much is required,” are true. And sometimes, we can all be tiny brats around the holidays who forget we’ve been given so much by a benevolent Universe. The year the green pig flew on my tree? Not my best. Not by a long shot. My dad died and I got divorced. Also, though, the year when I began to grow the hell up and into my own strength, power and compassion. I said “Thank you, God” more times than I can count. And I truly meant it. The bad sucked but it was life-changing toward a greater good in my life and the lives of those around me.
The year I spent alone? That one I began by bemoaning the fact that my “close” friends weren’t so close anymore. And then I thought of all the beautiful people I call compadres around the world. The ones who think I’m lovely and funny and don’t know that I sometimes sneak the last of the peppermint bark because I mean—I’m only human and it’s Christmas and it’s really the only time you can eat peppermint bark. It’s not the same experience in July, no matter what the peppermint bark companies tell you. Anyway, I said “thank you” that day for the love that came through the ether from thousands of miles away and at all hours of the day and night due to time zone differences. It was a little bit of love each hour and it was delightful.
I try to be understanding with people who haven’t hit a spin cycle in life. You know them. They’re the ones complaining because there wasn’t enough sparkle in their presents or the ones making everyone miserable as they arrange the canapes in neat tiers you’re not allowed to touch lest you ruin their Instagram post.
If I’m honest, though, I try to find those at the party who are just wherever they are and so damned grateful for it because they know that even pain is a holiday baptism. The love that comes to you during that kind of holiday is like no other. And the ones in pure joy because they’ve hit a good patch in life—well, we like to laugh a lot together in the corner.
Whether it’s happy chatter or hard-earned quiet gratitude, be radical about it this holiday season. I plan on uttering a million “thanks” to a God who has seen me through all sorts of Christmases. They don’t have to come with a pretty bow, you know. It’s all good. Even when it doesn’t seem so.
Merry Christmas, dear friends. And for those who celebrate Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or another holiday, I wish you joy and thankfulness for wherever you are and whoever you are with this season.
Now I’m off to hide the peppermint bark.