Finding Christmas Again

When I was a child, I could barely wait for the Christmas season to begin. I would sit in our basement family room, LPs on the stereo filling the large space with carols, and dream of the ornaments I’d like to craft, the cookies and homemade gifts I’d like to make, and, yes, the gifts I hoped to receive.

Two albums received the most play. One was a recording of nuns singing a cappella tunes. “Go, Tell It on the Mountain,” was one of my favorites. Another was an instrumental-only vinyl of the Percy Faith orchestra. On that one, I most anticipated “I Saw Three Ships,” not understanding its message, just loving its rollicking joy.

Advent was a time of lighting the wreath with its three purple candles and one pink and…waiting. The wonderful, happy waiting for something great and fun to happen, something beyond your expectations, beyond your dreams.

Before that moment of glorious fulfillment were many smiling stops along the way. The setting out of the creche, the decorating of the tree, the making of Christmas cookies.

Once I had children of my own, the season took on a new golden hue as I watched my own kids celebrate the day when gifts magically appeared for them under the tree.

And then, when I was thirty-something, my mother died on December 10. Before she passed, she bought Christmas gifts for my sons and me. One was a sweet velvet outfit for our newest babe, just barely six months old.

My father and my sister and her family gathered at my house that year for Christmas dinner. We ate, we sang carols, we…got through it.

Gone was the joy of the season, seeping out like the air after a pin pricks an inflated balloon. For many, many years, I didn’t feel that exuberant happiness of Christmastime anymore. It was now associated with mourning in my heart.

118801_mainBut when you have children, you work to make it a wonderful, merriment-filled holiday for them. So every year, I would, as the saying goes, fake it until I maked it. (Pardon the poor grammar.)

Thank goodness for that. Having to put on that happy face every Christmas slowly, ever so slowly, opened the door to the ebullience of the season for me again. Seeing it through their eyes, ones undimmed by sorrow, allowed me to glance back at the snow-globe days of my childhood when the holiday meant nothing but unbridled joy, anticipating pleasures yet to come.

My mother’s death during the Christmas season threw me into a long, long advent of waiting and hoping for unfettered happiness. My children showed me that you can experience gladness of heart even when that part of you is wounded.

Christmas is a children’s holiday, with its focus on gifts and things of this world. Don’t be fooled for one minute, though, that this makes it less mystical. It warms cold hearts and brightens shadowed souls. Bring on the carols and shopping and cookies and cheer. In them is hidden the nugget of truth about this time: there’s light in the darkness, and you’ll find it eventually. Or it will find you.

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