I don’t subscribe to any particular religion, although, I can get behind many of the shared morals and values amongst all of them (Big fan of that peace and love!). So when it comes to holidays, I’m much more of a secular celebrator. Celebrations are my jam! I have my mom (and grandmoms) to thank for that. No matter what, she always did her best to make holidays special and memorable.
Christmas in particular. We didn’t grow up with much in terms of money and materialistic stuff. Sure, at times that made things more difficult. But never at Christmas. Christmas was always magical. Filled with the hope and possibility and lots of love. I never cared what was actually in those wrapped boxes. I just liked having something to look forward to and imagining what would be in them. “Santa” always did well, too, with the resources he had. I rarely-if ever-remember being disappointed.
My most memorable gift was a bag of 200 pieces of bubble gum. I chewed that bubble gum for a week straight! And now rarely touch the stuff. But that memory always brings a smile to my face.
And oh boy, the Christmas cookies! There were so many to be baked and overly consumed. My favorite were the “poison” cookies made in massive quantities by my father’s side. These special cookies were invented by his aunt and uncle (I believe.), who owned an operated a bakery in my parents’ home town. “Poison” because baking ammonia was the secret ingredient, not because anyone actually was poisoned (Sugar debate aside.). And Christmas wreaths made of cornflakes, marshmallows, and lots of green food coloring. Decorated with red hots, that I promptly removed and ate separately. Not to mention “Buckeyes,” probably known as peanut butter chocolate balls for those of you who didn’t grow up in the vicinity of Ohio State University.
There was also tree decorating, all kinds of crafts, sledding, ice skating, and other cold and snowy activities, hot chocolate, Christmas movies, and carols, lots of carols. Somewhere there’s an incredibly hilarious and embarrassing mixtape my siblings and I made one year for our parents based entirely on Christmas carols. Let’s just say none of us grew up to be professional singers.
And Grandmas’ houses! I come from a massive family with both sides originating from the same small Ohio town so the holidays were spend traversing between both sides, cooking and eating tons of delicious home-cooked food, hanging with our cousins, and playing games with the entire family. You haven’t played Spoons or Euchre until you’ve played with our family.
But as you grow older, times change. Matriarchs pass on, kids grow up and move away, get married, have their own kids, and it becomes more challenging to get the crew together. I have incredibly happy holiday memories, but also still feel a bit sad this time of year because it will never be the same.
I still celebrate hard. But it looks different. I rarely go back to the midwest during the actual holiday. So holiday gatherings with family happen at other times of the season. While not the same, the extension of celebration is appreciated. Sometimes I go to the bf’s family’s home or we join other transplants in our current home town, which is festive in its own way. We’ve even traveled on Christmas Day.
Together we try to establish new traditions. There’s the tree right after Thanksgiving (Never before!). As I’ve felt more and more guilty about buying a live Christmas tree and not sure the perils of a fake one, one year the bf bought me a tiny one in a pot to plant after the holidays. We planted it in a local park, only to find it dead several months later. Oops. But the intent behind it still warms my heart. And we always decorate it with ornaments collected over our entire lifetime, adding new ones to it each year.
There are a million parties. In particular, our main tradition is our own holiday party we call “The Eggnogger,” in which we invite everyone we know and love to an open house to kick off the holiday season in celebration of everything winter. I do have to say it’s the party of the year!
And there are the more quiet activities. Baking the aforementioned treats. Watching the Christmas classics. And trying new ones. Netflix’s cheesy Hallmark-ish movies do not meet the mark, by the way. Fires in the fireplace. Hot chocolate. Ugly holiday sweaters. Singing carols. Sleeping in and waffles on Christmas morning. Giving to others who may need a little something we can give. Not much has actually changed in way of tradition, but it does feel different in a different location with different people.
I suppose that’s life, though. Always evolving in some form. The “holiday blues” are probably a sense of mourning for Christmas past, the desire for something that never existed, and/or a fear that it will never exist. I’m lucky that my melancholy nostalgia never quite hits blues levels, but I know a lot of people do struggle with that. Feelings of loneliness, loss, and inadequacy often creep into what I still believe should be a magical time of wonder and possibility.
So I think those of us who can afford it, need to walk about life this time of year (and really all the time) with some extra love and compassion. Open our hearts to others, whether it’s giving money or material items, donating our time, listening to someone for an extra few minutes, or inviting people into our homes. Also, recognize that not everyone believes in or celebrates the same thing. And that’s okay. We also need to give ourselves the same compassion. Just because we didn’t send out those Christmas cards yet again doesn’t mean we’ve failed and we can’t show our love in other ways. Like New Year’s cards.