Decorating a Christmas tree is a tradition I have always loved. When I was a kid, everyone in the family helped hang the many ornaments, some home-made and others store-bought, on the real pine tree that had a place of honor in the living room. Back in those days, people embellished their trees with strands of tinsel, which my mother insisted had to be placed individually on our tree. No throwing handfuls of tinsel at the tree and hoping it would magically spread out for us!
(Of course, we all did “cheated” as soon as Mom wasn’t looking.)
When Dan and I established ourselves as a family, we continued this tradition that was cherished by both of our families. Again, decorating the tree was a family endeavor. How I loved our Christmas trees! I would play the song “O Christmas Tree” in its honor while I admired the ornaments and the twinkling lights. Christmas without a tree was unthinkable!
Then my husband died four months before Christmas in 2012. Celebrating Christmas became a chore, and decorating a tree lost its allure. My daughter came one year and put the tree and other decorations up—and I did appreciate having the holiday cheer around. But I never felt like dragging all of the boxes out of the garage and going through the effort doing the job by myself. I settled for a two foot tree that I could decorate with a few small ornaments. It wasn’t the same—but at least it was a tree.
About a week ago, I decided to put up the tree and decorate it like we used to.
Removing each ornament from its storage box brought back many memories. Seeing ornaments that were gifts from students, or that I made reminded me of when and where I acquired it. Some of them date back many years. For instance, I have two decorations that I bought when I went to Toronto many, many years ago with a good friend. There are ornaments I made, including a stuffed Santa and several ceramic pieces. A strawberry that a dear friend made for me twenty years ago has a place of honor on the tree as does a heart shaped ornament inscribed with ‘Happy Birthday’ that I received from my Aunt Noel and Uncle Jack when I turned forty. Another beloved aunt, Virginia, gave me one of the original “Elf on a Shelf” figures back in the 1970’s—and it, too, occupies a space on the tree. Needless to say, a few of the decorations were made by my now-adult daughter when she was in preschool. Hanging those ornaments on the tree brings back memories of the delightful, curly haired child she was. I love the idea of Santa, so quite a few of my decorations are Santa-themed.
It seemed that each ornament held some memory that reminded me of someone I love—many of whom are no longer with us. Two very special ornaments were made by my Mom many years ago. She cut ovals out of red velveteen fabric and then she embroidered our names on them. Originally they were embellished with paper bells which disappeared long ago. Whenever I touch these ornaments, I feel closer to my Mom.
When I was finished with the tree, I was delighted! Not only was it beautiful, but it reminded me of all of the people and happy times who were part of my life.
Christmas is upon us—again. I’m trying, God knows, to feel the Christmas spirit, but it is eluding me.
I want desperately to celebrate and enjoy the holiday season and all of its trappings: glittery ornaments, happy songs, gifts, Christmas trees, decorated houses. (Notice I left cookies off this list—I have no trouble enjoying them!)
I’ve heard all of the advice—you need new Christmas traditions, you need to focus on the positive, do for others, (which I’ve done), and you need to let go of the memories that hold you back.
Too bad it isn’t that easy.
The harsh reality is that Christmas will never be the same for me now that my husband is gone.
And dreaming up new traditions seems to be daunting right now.
Strangely, this feeling come upon me full force after what was supposed to be the start of a “new tradition.” (Isn’t that phrase an oxymoron?)
I attended a spectacular Christmas show at a local church the other night. A show that is famous in Orlando for the singing and the extravagance of the production.
It was all that—200 massed voices, all on key, singing favorite carols while perching in the branches of two gigantic Christmas trees. Meanwhile, an actor portrayed a harried director who doesn’t get the real meaning of Christmas—only to discover it before the end of the show. There was a recreation of the Biblical Creation story, complete with life sized elephant and giraffe puppets. Children danced, sang, and were incredibly sweet.
Yes, all the elements were there…
But I came home feeling even emptier.
Now I’m dragging myself through the season, trying to find something to cling to in order to make this a Christmas to celebrate.
So, I’m heading to snowy, cold Buffalo hoping to find the meaning of Christmas in the arms of my family.
I was supposed to celebrate this Christmas with my daughter and her spouse in Oregon. That didn’t happen. I needed to have unexpected surgery on December 11th and came home from the hospital a few days later. Luckily, my daughter was able to travel here to be with me while I was hospitalized. But she had commitments back on the West Coast, and had to go back soon after I returned from the hospital.
The word disappointed hardly begins to explain how I felt when I realized that I would have to cancel all of my plans for Christmas. I was angry at my situation, and I wondered why me?
This is my second Christmas without my husband—and it hasn’t gotten much easier. The Ghosts of Christmases past haunted me: the party we gave and the ones we went to, the Gala, festive decorations, decorating cookies and visiting my daughter were memories from other Christmases— and would not be a part of this one. There was no reason to bake Christmas cookies, and I did all my shopping on Amazon.com.
You can imagine how I felt.
And there was no miraculous reprieve. I woke Christmas morning with just my dog Sparkle for company.
Luckily, several good friends came to the rescue. I was invited to a wonderful Christmas Eve dinner by one friend and to Christmas Day dinner by another. Several other people extended invitations to celebrate the holiday with them. And my family called every day to bolster my spirits.
Before she left, my daughter decorated the house, and together we put up my table-top Christmas tree. Having a festive house did lift my spirits and made the holiday feel a lot more cheerful.
Best of all, I went to a meaningful Mass with a dear friend who recently became a widow, too.
So even though the Ghosts of Christmases Past hovered in the wings, I did have a merry Christmas.
I hope you did, too.
Do you have Christmas decorations that are special to you?
Among my favorite decorations are a gift, a decoration that was my father-in-law’s and one that I made.
The Christmas Mop Doll was a gift from a good friend. She surprised me with it several years ago—and when I see it, I remember that visit vividly. When my daughter was helping me decorate this year, she got excited when she saw the doll, too.
I made the Noel wall hanging years ago—it took a long time, because I had to work on it in between teaching, shopping, preparing for the holidays and being a mother and wife. I was thrilled when it was finished. It has a place of honor every year.
The stained glass candle holder belonged to my beloved father-in-law. He even fixed the candle holder by screwing the candle cup onto the front! He loved to make stained glass lamps and other decorations—although he didn’t make this. I honor his memory by placing this candle holder in a special place.
Using these decorations every year honors friendship, the memory of loved ones and the energy I put into making the holiday special for my family.
Sorry, Merry Christmas people, I’ve decided to make the change to saying Happy Holidays.
Let me explain.
Yes, I love Christmas and believe that it is actually the birthday of Jesus Christ—to me, it is a holy day. One of many holy days that are celebrated during the winter months: Hanukah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice and so on. Each day is legitimate to those who celebrate it.
So I think it behooves me as a Christian to honor other traditions, to acknowledge that my holy day isn’t the only one.
I also believe that Christmas has been co-opted by merchandisers and other profiteers. That bothers me, because I think it has replaced the sharing of Christmas with wholesale consumerism and greed.
Now, I do draw the line at calling Christmas Trees Holiday Trees or Christmas cookies Holiday cookies and so on. We wouldn’t tolerate calling a Hanukah Menorah a Holiday Menorah, would we? And I must admit that parodies of the “Twelve Days of Christmas” leave me cold. Using Christmas Carol melodies as the basis for songs to encourage gift giving (which I heard on a Target ad) offends me. Recordings by name artists of Christmas Carols where they torture the beautiful melodies and words are offensive because they use songs that are actually hymns to sell records. I am sure that many of those melodies are public domain which means that the artist pays no royalties to sing them—once again using Christmas to make money.
So, if you are a Christmas person and I know it, I will wish you a Merry Christmas. But I think the generic Happy Holidays is much more suitable for those I encounter in the business of living—clerks in stores, servers in restaurants, personnel in offices. That way, I know I am wishing them well for whatever holiday they celebrate.
Merry Christmas to all of you! Enjoy your holidays!
We celebrated a wonderful Christmas with our daughter and her partner in California. Both families were invited to come and enjoy everything Christmas implies: family time, beautiful decorations, gift giving, fabulous food and togetherness. We baked and decorated Christmas cookies and strung popcorn and cranberries to festoon the tree. We drove around to see the decorations that graced so many of the homes in Riverside, California. We walked through the venerable Mission Inn Hotel which has an amazing light display. And even though we went away for a good part of the Christmas season, we decorated our home in Florioda with a lovely tree and other bits and pieces.
It was a Christmas to remember.
Then came New Year’s which we welcomed with good friends at a party here in Solivita. We drank champagne and enjoyed music and a ball drop.
So, our holidays were suitably festive.
Some people as they get older stop going for all the falderal associated with holidays. It is tempting to do that. Decorating a tree and dusting off all the little angels, Santas and so on that I love seeing at Christmas takes time. You have to drag the boxes out of the garage and unwrap it all. Then a month later, you have to put it all back again.
I am happy that we went to that trouble. I take great pleasure in seeing my little tree and enjoy the Santas and other decorations I place around the house. To me, it wouldn’t be Christmas without those trappings.
I think that if we stopped celebrating holidays, our lives would be diminished. What would we look forward to, if we didn’t see the holidays as a special time? Just another day—another Sunday or Monday or whatever? Holidays give us a reason to stop and savor life. For many of us, it is a time to think about those we love, to spend time with them, even to tell them that we love them. For many, it is a time to observe certain comforting rituals: baking cookies, going to church, giving gifts, enjoying a feast with family and friends.
No matter what holiday you celebrated, I hope yours was a happy as mine. And I hope that the holidays have given you the energy and strength to face the coming year with joy.
In the waning afternoon sun on a Christmas Eve many years ago, my daughter, husband and I anticipated a snowy drive to Buffalo from Angola, where we lived with my husband’s father. As the gloomy afternoon wore on, snow began to fall. Not the fairy tale, picturesque snow of maudlin Christmas movies, but big fat, serious snowflakes that rapidly coated the road in front of our house, and weighted down the tall spires of evergreens lining the road that led to the Lakeshore Road, a tricky drive even in good weather.
The phone rang shrilly, disturbing my anxious thoughts as I watched out the mullioned windows at the snow piling up in marshmallow mounds in our yard. My sister’s voice crackled through the phone wire.
“Are you going to try to make it?” Susan asked.
“How much snow do you have there?” I asked anxiously.
“It’s starting to pile up, but the radio said that the south towns were getting a blast of lake effect snow. You know, we want you to come, but…” her voice trailed off.
We’d never missed a Christmas Eve at the Joyces’. It was part party, part dance, part feast, and just plain fun. Everything and anything happened at our Christmas eves- square dancing in the front hall as my sister played the piano, singing Christmas carols, a frenzy of gifts, hugging, crying, saying ‘I love you”, and of course feasting on great food. We topped the evening off by trudging through the snow to St. John’s church on Seneca street to Midnight Mass. Sisters and brothers traveled from miles to gather in our parent’s home- even keeping this tradition long after both of our parents had died, and I wanted this Christmas Eve to be no different.
I muttered a little prayer under my breath as I went outside to assess the situation. It soon became clear that we were staying put that evening. I looked up into the nighttime sky, a swirl of snow, as hot tears of disappointment stung my eyes. I couldn’t even see across the two-lane road. A phone call from Dan’s brother, a NY State Trooper, confirmed the diagnosis. He warned us to stay home; they were pulling the state troopers off the roads for a while until things improved- probably sometime after midnight.
So here, we were, stuck in Angola, for what should have been the most festive night of the holiday season. Worse yet, I really needed a break from taking care of my father- in -law, whose brain was ravaged by Alzheimer’s disease, changing one of the most creative, vital people I have ever know into a child in a man’s body.
To make matters worse, when I went to the pantry to try to invent a make- shift meal, all we had, other than the holiday turkey, was some frozen pizzas.
I put together a hurry -up meal of frozen pizza, salad, and our Christmas cookies.
We all sat down to dinner, surrounded by the soft glow of our charming Christmas tree, and munched on the pizza and salad. We then topped it off with the festive cookies Brenda, our daughter, and I had decorated so lovingly.
The snow continued to fall, blanketing the house with silent winter coziness. We put holiday music on the record player, and exchanged gifts.
Grandpa Joe, as we called my father-in-law, delighted in the winter hat and gloves we gave him, putting them on and insisting on wearing them all evening. He took great pleasure in sharing his box of Danish cookies with Shadow, his ancient black Labrador.
We found ourselves laughing and exchanging funny stories. Could it be? Was Joe a little more aware that evening? I’m not sure, but I do know this, that that snow storm that night was part of God’s great plan for my family and me.
Fast-forward another year. A different Christmas Eve, crisp and clear; with roads that were easily traveled over as we hurried into Buffalo to my sister’s home. This would be the first Christmas that my father –in- law was no longer with us. The impromptu Christmas Eve from the year before was his last on earth, it was indeed, Joe Glascott’s last Noel.
Christmas has arrived. Or at least it’s arrived at Wal Mart, Target, Kmart, Walgreens, CVS and many other stores. We even have the public Christmas tree and menorah on display here in Solivita.
By my reckoning, it’s at least six weeks until Christmas. So that means by the time Christmas does arrive at the end of December, we will be sick of it—Christmas-ed out, if you will.
I was taught that Christmas is a primarily religious holiday when I attended Catholic School in Buffalo many years ago. Now it appears that merchants have completely co-opted this holiday to sell more stuff—most of which we don’t need. Of course, this is nothing new. Christmas always was the season to spend, spend spend.
Ads encourage parents to buy expensive toys and husbands to purchase lavish jewelry to express their love. There is even a TV ad that shows a teenage daughter giving her mother a beautiful, obviously expensive locket. It’s for a jewelry store, of course. I can’t wait for the Lexus commercials on TV! The greed and overindulgence they promote is so over the top, that they are almost iconic—and sickening.
Now I enjoy giving gifts to those I love, and I appreciate getting gifts, too. I think most people do. And Christmas is traditionally the time to do that. It is a wonderful tradition.
But I think the selling of Christmas has exceeded any reasonable limits. This year, stores are decorated for Christmas almost two months early and the Salvation Army Santa is ringing his or her bell outside my supermarket before Thanksgiving. I feel like Christmas has lost its meaning. And I know that by the time Christmas arrives, I will be sick of the tinsel and trees and hate the sound of Jingle Bells.
So I don’t know how to feel about those who rush the season for ruining it for me. Maybe I should boycott them, but it is literally impossible. I have to buy groceries and actually can’t hibernate until January.
Wouldn’t it be nice if Christmas decorations magically appeared after Thanksgiving so that we wouldn’t be bored by the Santas and candles by Christmas? Wouldn’t it be even nicer if retailers didn’t exploit a lovely holiday so greedily?