A radical attitude of Christmas gratitude

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.


59 Comments Add yours

  1. Aw, Kristine, what a delight it was to read this post. Your perspective is one I could ingest day after day because you see things, life, so clearly and know what matters most – I adore you so much for that. I hope you find joy and peace and love this holiday season, and feel magic all around. Sending lots of love and hugs to you, my friend. ❤️

    1. candidkay says:

      You couldn’t have said anything sweeter😊. Thank you! Wishing you joy and peace this season. And sending a huge hug through the ether.

  2. markbialczak says:

    Merry Christmas indeed, Kay.

    1. candidkay says:

      Merry Christmas to you and yours, Mark! Much to celebrate in your house! 💍🎄

  3. Wonderful post .. Merry Christmas Kristine ❤️

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you, Julie! Wishing you a wonderful Christmas on that gorgeous farm of yours!

  4. I understand that impulse for perfection and feel the Christmas spirit sometimes more often than others, but there is such a release in believing that you have enough wherever you are.

    1. candidkay says:

      Amen to that, Andrea. Wishing you a wonderful holiday!

  5. mydangblog says:

    The holiday season can be a very difficult time for some people for a variety of reasons. I remember when I was teaching that some students’ behaviour went through the roof right before Christmas Break because for a lot of them, spending time in a home where they weren’t particularly loved or appreciated, or worse, was nothing to look forward to. I always cut my kids a lot of slack at that time of year, just like we need to give people the benefit of the doubt (not just at Christmas but the rest of the year too) because you never know what someone is going through on the inside:-)

    1. candidkay says:

      So very true and such a good reminder! Makes me sad about the students.

  6. Kathy says:

    Merry Christmas to you–and I enjoyed reading your thoughts here. Down with our mind trying to make things perfect! Up with our enjoyment of the simple pleasures. xoxoxo

    1. candidkay says:

      Merry Christmas, Kathy! Wishing you an abundance of simple pleasures to enjoy this holiday season.🎄

  7. srbottch says:

    Merry Christmas, Kristine. I’m thankful that I’m still taller than our artificial tree (it’s a short one). And I’m really thankful to have WP friends who actually read my gibberish and make positive comments. You do that and it’s sincerely appreciated. I love peppermint bark. This year I’m packing in David’s powder coated almond cookies. They really do melt in your mouth (and settle around the waist)

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you! Kind words and yours are never gibberish:). Waistline watching can happen in January–just enjoy the goodies! Merry Christmas!

      1. srbottch says:

        Powdered covered buttered pecans, not almonds. Yummy!By the way,, how are your sons, in particular the one who went into the service?

      2. candidkay says:

        They’re fine—thank you for asking. I don’t know if you remember but my eldest actually fractured knee and was given medical discharge. He has been studying the past few years and is about to earn his degrees in emergency medical services and fire science so that he can officially become a fireman and paramedic. I’m proud of him😀.

      3. srbottch says:

        As you should be. Sounds like a man on a mission with an exciting career in his path. Good for you both. By the way, , I’m trying to write a story (all my stories can be described as ‘I’m trying’), get this, a story about love. As Conway Twitty (you’re probably too young) sang, “I don’t know a thing about love”. It’s really about a touching moment. You’ll see. Take care and Merry Christmas, Kristine.

      4. candidkay says:

        I think that’s wonderful! The world could use more stories about love right now:). Can’t wait to see it . . . Merry Christmas, Steve!

      5. srbottch says:

        Kristine, love story alert! I just posted my story (with the approval of my neighbor).

      6. candidkay says:

        I’m a sucker for a good love story, Steve! Thanks for letting me know🙂.

  8. Luanne says:

    What a mindful, inspiration post. Pass me the peppermint bark, please!

    1. candidkay says:

      I’ll have to pass it to keep myself from eating it, Luanne😉. Happy Holidays!

      1. Luanne says:

        Thank you and back atcha.

  9. Roy McCarthy says:

    Three cheers for those (almost exclusively mothers) who throw themselves into battle every year in pursuit of the perfect Christmas. It’s a selfless act, that’s what mothers do best. Whether this is some sort of primal instinct or a lemming thing brought on by commercial interests I don’t know. Fair play to my own mother who always made it special for us kids even when money was short and things were far from easy. Three cheers for you all even though I now ignore the whole thing.

    1. candidkay says:

      Hold on there, Roy:). You ignore the whole thing?! Do you mean the prep or the holiday itself? I’m guessing the prep. You are the furthest thing from Scrooge–your blog gives you away:). You’ve got a heart of gold . . .

      1. Roy McCarthy says:

        No, I ignore the whole nonsense. I live by myself these days, don’t send or receive cards/presents, no tree, decorations etc. I turn down all dinners, parties etc. BUT I don’t go around like Scrooge either – I’m happy that others take pleasure from Christmas. On the 25th I’ll be off out running while I have the island to myself, everyone else inside celebrating 🙂

      2. candidkay says:

        Good for you for knowing what you want, Roy. Sending you a virtual hug and a sincere wish for a Merry Christmas 🎄!

  10. Masha says:

    This made me remember all those years where I too had to have everything perfect and I wasn’t organized, nor did I ever have a plan and so I ran around like a crazy woman trying to get my kids ready and myself ready and well, you know…I really loved this heartwarming gift you have given us here. Happy Holidays dear Kay xoxo

    1. candidkay says:

      Aw, thanks Masha🙂. I’m glad you took it as a gift and didn’t curse me for reminding you of those days😉. Happy Holidays!

      1. Masha says:

        I’m not sure why I’m not getting notices when you post something new, I’m going to unfollow you and then re subscribe 🙂 I think that should fix it.

      2. candidkay says:

        Thank you! It would be great if we all had our own personal tech-support for these bits :-).

  11. aprilgarner says:

    My standard holiday anxiety about “getting it all done” showed up early this year. I was stressing about it today. Thanks for reminding me I don’t have to and for reminding me what’s important. (peppermint bark, right?)

    1. candidkay says:

      Yes. Unequivocally, the peppermint bark is important 😉. Beyond that, it’s all gravy!

  12. From another blogger who has been through several spin cycles in her life and survived: Have a Very Merry Christmas, Kristine! xx

    1. candidkay says:

      Merry Christmas, Jennifer! I always appreciate your words of wisdom all the more because I know they come from experience.

  13. Cindy Sneller says:

    Oh this post brought me back to all the same trials and errors. So, true how we learn by them. Thank you for giving me a way to view it all ‘with joy’. I wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year Kristine. Enjoy!!

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you, Cindy!
      I hope you have a very merry Christmas and wishing you many blessings in the new year!

  14. Robin says:

    Beautiful post. Thank you. And Merry Christmas, Kristine. ❤

    1. candidkay says:

      Merry Christmas, Robin!🎄🎄I hope it’s a joyous one for you and yours!

  15. Karen Lang says:

    Such a beautiful reminder to be grateful for every moment. I have learned to appreciate life so much more after suffering. May your Christmas be filled with love and gratefulness 🧡

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you, Karen! I appreciate the kind words and you taking the time to comment. I hope you have a wonderful holiday season! 🎄

  16. Merry Christmas Kris! Thanks for such an uplifting post! And off to check out a few of the linked posts I haven’t read.

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you and Merry Christmas! 🎄 i’ve also been remiss on keeping up with peoples blogs as well as writing my own :-). I’ve been trying to have more of a balance in terms of “real life“ and being out here in the ether.

  17. Dale says:

    A wonderful post full of love and acceptance. What is perfect? We all have our own definition, I say. As long as you love what you have and stop wanting to have what others do, you are sure to find that happiness and peaceful joy that is due to each of us.
    I wish for you a very happy Christmas season, Kristine!

    1. candidkay says:

      And I wish the same for you, Dale! Thank you for your kindness over the past year and always for your wisdom🙂.

      1. Dale says:

        Thank you, Kristine…The kindness has been returned! Wisdom, eh? 😊

  18. I wish you a very Merry Christmas, Kristine. I liked the ‘Head in the Fireplace’ post, which made me think. This is my 80th Christmas, and I continue to be thankful for life’s blessings. At the end of the day, we are what we endure, and all the better for it.

    1. candidkay says:

      Merry Christmas, John! I try now to keep my head out of the fireplace:). How about you keep yours out of one this holiday season also? Wishing you the best. Eighty is a milestone year to be truly proud of–takes grit to get there!

      1. Thanks Kristine. I guess grit comes into play. I have led a number of lives and each one has had it’s share of trials. It does seem good to settle down into the final push though. 😁

  19. Inkplume says:

    I don’t know why we have to learn the hard way that there are no perfect table settings, gift-wrapping, holidays meals or even families. Like you, I finally got there. Happy Holidays!

    1. candidkay says:

      I’m not surprised that you got there! You’re a smart cookie:). Wishing you and yours a wonderful holiday season!

  20. markbialczak says:

    Good tidings, Kay, for you have earned your joy. Happy holidays, my longtime(!) blogger friend.

    1. candidkay says:

      Happy Holidays, Mark! I’m sure yours will be filled with wonderful memories. Enjoy that loving family of yours!

  21. Miriam says:

    A warm and gracious post filled with positivity and acceptance. Wishing you much love, peace and happiness this holiday season.

    1. candidkay says:

      Wishing you the same, Miriam! Thank you 😊.

  22. Thank you for the heartfelt and engaging holiday post Kristine. You have a great attitude toward life and its challenges. I tend to let the challenges and pain drag me down. May your holidays be filled with love and gratitude.

    1. candidkay says:

      I hope you’re surrounded by love this holiday and can feel it!

      1. Thank you Kristine. I’m realizing that I don’t allow much good into my life so yes, I hope to allow more love into my life and heart.

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