So here’s the thing about Christmas. I get the point. I’m a Christian and this is possibly one of our biggest times of the year for celebration of Jesus. (It’s between Christmas and Easter, in case you were wondering.) For all of the years that I have been aware of what Christmas is, I have also enjoyed the thought of Santa Claus and all of the magic that gift giving and peace-wishing entails.
My family is not immune to the magic of the holiday, both the religious aspects and the commercial aspects of shopping, wrapping, and giving gifts to our loved ones. We have made it a tradition to view lights one night before Christmas Eve, eat a special meal that night, watch the Polar Express before bed, and make sure that our tree is embedded in a sea of gifts. Our house is all decorated, even down to the small tree that lights up beside my bed each night. So I get it, I really do.
But at the end of the day, Christmas is not what it used to be for me. Today was absolutely amazing in the morning. Last night was great as well. This is the first Christmas that I have my puppy, it’s the first Christmas that I have had as a full-time teacher. I am getting so many extra gifts and so much extra love that it’s crazy. I also feel grateful for the fact that I am able to donate some more of my money to good causes this year. I have made it my mission to do random acts of kindness throughout the year, but giving monetary donations to any cause is normally something I shy away from. (Not because I’m a grinch, but because I am very careful with what little money I do possess.)
So how has it changed in my eyes? Well this year I didn’t get to say Merry Christmas to my fiance; I don’t have a fiance to tell. There were no surprise gifts of vacations to South Carolina or wondrous things that I have always wished for. This year I was so wrapped up in others that I sort of forgot about myself. That’s how I wanted it to be; I didn’t want to think about my hurt or my wish to get over past memories and hurt. And so, I get it now. I get that this is how the holiday is supposed to be. Looking back, I believe I’ve been building up this idea and this perspective for years now. Slowly but surely this holiday has become less about me and more about others. This year was just the icing on the cake, the telescope staring me in the face. This year, I fully understand.
Yes, Christmas is not what it used to be. There were no card games with my cousins, showing off gifts to my aunts and uncles. I didn’t have a moment of pure ecstasy when I opened up a brand new computer or unveiled a new outfit that I had been eyeing for weeks. But maybe it’s better this way.
This morning when my family woke up, I had the joy of watching my baby pup unwrap his gifts. He was so excited to do it all on his own. By the time his last gift was being unwrapped, he had even come to understand that his mission was to find the toy INSIDE of the paper, rather than to eat all of the paper itself. He was so happy that after his gifts were done, he tried to help everyone else. Then, immediately after breakfast, he crashed in his new bed, surrounded by his new toys. As if nothing in the world could make his life any better in that one moment of pure joy.
My sister and I did so good on shopping ideas for our mom this year that she cried. Twice. She said it was from the same pure joy that Jasper had apparently been experiencing.
My sister, so excited to get her new outfit and gear for her vehicle, immediately gave us a fashion show, placed her new accessories in the truck, and started to fill out job applications. On Christmas. Because she is just that determined to put her new suit to good use!
Dad got a lot, but I guess some things never change. He had everything guessed correctly before he even touched the boxes that we had “hidden” his gifts in. Smart man, that one. Too bad he hides that pure joy that everyone else had shown.
As I sat there on the living room floor thinking about my family and seeing their smiling faces, I didn’t want one thing to change. The only thing I could do in addition to what was already being done was to pray for my kids, to pray for their families, and to pray for my friends. Those from my past and those from my present, that they may have experienced such perfect bliss as that moment in my life.
As I lay here now, wondering if I missed this amazing miracle every other year of my life, I am content in knowing that there will always be another Christmas. Whether I am still here with my family or somewhere else in the world, I will be looking out for that miracle. It’s the greatest gift that I could have received this year; to know that my family is okay and that one thing, at least that one tiny thing, never changes.
Of course going to my Grandma’s house was not nearly as stellar as that miraculous realization. But I was armed and ready with weapons. I think it’s so weird that I have this huge family (actually, 21 people) and I never really talk to any of them. Except for Mom, Dad, my sister, and Grandma. But the thing is, each of them is so wrapped up in talking to those family members that we only see twice a year (Christmas and Easter, who would have thought!) that I might as well be invisible. Which again, is okay now that I realize the true TRUE meaning of the holiday.
Yet it’s so awkward for me. Have you ever taught a class before or given a presentation? You know how everyone’s eyes are always on you. Maybe they are waiting for you to perform amazing work or maybe they are waiting for you to mess up; the reason for their attention is not important. What is important is you, at least in that one moment. This is how I feel when I teach my kids. And no, I do not do it for the “fame” or the attention, but it does feel good to not be the child in the back of the room who is too shy to speak out anymore. It feels amazing to be part of the conversation and part of the world that all of these other people are experiencing.
So try showing up to your family get together on Christmas and realizing that you’re back to being the wall flower. In one room are the boys (or men rather) who fall asleep immediately after the meal and are only there because their wives or mother made them come along. In the other room are the cousins, none of which are within 3 or 4 years of my age. Which is cool, except my older cousin had a baby a few years back and now all they do is sit around and “slobber” over him. Cute, but the kid is going to be starstruck before he’s 4! Finally, the kitchen is full of those people who are worried about Grandma. This year was her 61st Christmas dinner (add that up once), and she always over exhausts herself trying to cook for us. (For example, our intake of mashed potatoes tops 15 pounds, and the 21+ pound turkey is too heavy for her to even lift on her own.) So everyone tries to baby Grandma in the kitchen.
I’ve tried to find this place where I belong in the jumble. Logic says that I would belong in the room with my cousins, the “young generation”. But I don’t fit in there; two of my cousins are in their thirties and are either 1) sleeping with the men or 2) chasing their son around the house. The younger ones are always giving googly eyes to the baby and seem fairly fake besides. Just the fact that they don’t even acknowledge me when they walk in the door tells you how great of a relationship I have with any single one of them. It’s fairly sad really. But the cousin room, for whatever reason, is out.
Then there’s the adult room. They all just sit there staring at each other and discussing people that I have no idea even existed. Or the topic revolves around what car part is necessary to fix so-and-so’s truck and what was the best part of the Christmas meal. So okay, I can hang out there for a bit, but after a while, a conversation where you give absolutely zero input (because if you did, you would point out to everyone that you are such an outsider) gets boring.
On to the next room, where everyone is asleep. And, with no explanation needed, it’s on to the kitchen.
I tried to clean up dishes this year and set up desserts, but they told me that there were already too many people in the kitchen at the time. That’s fine I guess, since it was actually true. Grandma’s house is not built for a seven-person chef team. Yet that’s how many were there, trying to be equally as helpful as I was. So, being the youngest and least stubborn of the bunch, I got booted out.
Last year during this time, I ended up in my Grandma’s office, texting my fiance on the phone. He was at his parent’s house celebrating, and I was with my family. It was great. This year, I don’t have that luxury…
So things have been great today, and yet things have been awkward. I get where I belong but I also still feel like I’m lost in a sea of confusion around my extended family.
The only thing I know for sure is that my pup was dreaming at the bottom of my bed and he just woke up with a whimper. (Ironically, this occurred at the exact moment that I said I felt lost….) He immediately stood up and come to the head of the bed, where he is now laying with his shoulder on mine. Looks like it will be difficult for me to type more now, and it also looks like I’m getting some sort of sign that everything will be okay.
So to end this post, Merry Christmas and I hope you all experienced at least some of the joy that I have experienced today. But whatever you do, don’t forget that your life is never totally stuck in a rut and that you never have everything figured out. Good luck learning more and more thought!