I’m not, traditionally, a Christmas person.
When I was very young my family were on the receiving end of gift giving programs. My parents were broke and we had a large family. The holiday put a lot of unnecessary guilt and pressure on. Often us kids would dream for weeks, as we rummaged through the Sunday circulars making up wish lists of toys we don’t need and eventually, finally, decide on one. Sometimes my folks were able to get the one gift we chose. Sometimes not. I remember in 5th grade I wanted a package of pastels so I could make art on newspaper. I got the pastels but never made art.
By that time though, my sisters and I were in social program that allowed us time to volunteer for the same gift giving programs that gave my family presents. I didn’t put much perspective on that experience then as I do now. I just remember the joy it was to fill those Christmas wish lists for kids my own age. Wrapping the presents and making a nice package for homes like mine.
As I got older. I realized I never needed presents. I wanted more time with family and that was a tough gift to ask for. My dad went to prison. Siblings went to treatment programs, mom worked 3 or more jobs just to make ends meet. I worked too, and used my money to help where needed. Year after year, the holidays just didn’t make the kind of time we wanted together. The family was drifting away from one another. Then I was 15. My only grandma passed away at the end of October, my dad passed on shortly after, the first week of December. The loss was felt deep, grief sunk hopes. My older siblings coped with drugs and alcohol and the fabric of our family was forever changed. Like an oil stain on your favorite pair of jeans. You stop wearing the jeans. You put them in a box and never look back. Or maybe, you just throw them away. Before this year, the stain was always washable. People came back you tried to come together again but this year. It changed, no one came back.
For years afterward I didn’t buy gifts, and I awkwardly (though gratefully) accepted, when I was given them. When I turned 18 I decided everyone was getting a gift. Like our thank you ceremonies, everyone was getting a blanket and cash. I made sure of it. For my mom, my twin sister and I teamed up and got her a Gold necklace with a gemstone representing all six of her children. She was also getting all new kitchen accessories because we’d been using the same ones that survived us kids being kids! They needed to be retired. I really thought if I were intentional about bringing gifts to the family, the family would magically come together and we’d take steps to be closer. My mom was grateful that year but I learned a lesson. None of us really need stuff. We need to learn how to be a family again. I started to build up resentment towards happy families and the holidays just fueled that isolation. On two fronts, first the joyful peace you should have as a family and the second my inability to elevate the consumerism and value of things like the happy people did. If we can’t come together and give each other nice things what’s the point? Self shaming and guilt over my own means.
A few years ago, I met someone. He made me feel alive. I loved him. Gawd I absolutely adored him and thought I could conquer anything because he was beside me. I imagined a world of time with each other and all that I had longed for as a young person I had. The holidays were warmer and then reality started setting in. Something wasn’t right. When it didn’t work out, I was crushed. It was my own decision to leave because he was coping the same way my siblings had years before and I couldn’t have that in my life. We tried to make it work, but in the end I made the most difficult decision to leave. For the better.
Through my grief I realized the problem the whole time wasn’t necessarily all the things going wrong, family not getting along. the problem was me. Even now, I’m a fairly happy person yet every time the holidays come around I let my self shaming and guilt take over. I’m realizing that through all the tough times, loss and times of need. People were there. I have experienced such incredible kindness and generosity. Instead of feeling shame or guilt I’ve started to embrace and accepte that there are times of need and you can change the way you look at situations and how you then will act.
We make our own memories. My family members may not always want to get together. But persistence will pay off I believe. Now that I have nephews who look up to me. I know I have to change. No more being a big cry sack. I can be fun and loving and make the best out of situations. There are few gift giving programs like the ones I grew up with but these boys will learn the value of service and of giving.
I still don’t expect gifts. But I will celebrate Christmas. These boys will remember me. Not because of what things I give them. But for the times we had.
I may do different than most, and in the true spirit of the times, I will celebrate Christmas.