Not everyone is happy at Christmas

Painting by Diana Calvert

Christmas Day, the entire season in general, can be a very difficult time for people. From the expense of it, the obligations and expectations, extra travel, often illness, stress, the competition of it all, planning, celebrating, gifts, extra cooking, baking, and buying. And then the day of–poof, it’s over. All that’s left is to reconcile the expenses, put away all things Christmas, wipe the slate clean, and start over. As you are out and about dealing with friends, co-workers, retail workers, restaurant staff, total strangers, even family members remember to dig deep within yourself and give people the right to celebrate how they want, when they want, or not celebrate at all. Make your gift to others be the gift of grace and acceptance.

I remember many Christmases, due to circumstances, being alone. There wasn’t a tree, or decorations, or friends, or family, or gifts–nothing. I was alone, working three jobs, and very empty inside and unbearably sad. Yet, even in all of that, I enjoyed buying gifts for some of the people I worked for and though I wasn’t welcome at home (long story), dropping gifts off for family. There were no special meals, but I would go out and buy some special snacks. I made do and I survived the season. As time went on, I created different traditions that to this day are still a part of my life. The first thing I created on my own was watching at least three Christmas movies–back then you had to catch them on the television. I would watch the original 1935 version of a Christmas Carol, as well as read the book.

My second movie never missed is How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966 version), and last but never least It’s a Wonderful Life (black and white version). Having a tree was always important to me, but in lieu of a real one, I bought ceramic ones for years. Even before having ceramic trees, I would at least go out and buy a string of lights. In total in my life, I’ve spent fourteen years completely alone for Christmas, which includes the two years that I was homeless.

Sometimes Christmas can be difficult when you and your partner come from different backgrounds like my husband and I. He grew up in a Dutch household where they celebrate Christmas on December 5th eve and December 6th. This was a big deal when we first got married because I refused to give up Christmas Eve and Day traditions. Often throughout our time living next to his parents they would expect us to run errands, entertain them, or pickup their mail/water plants/ help with household things while they traveled during the holidays. You see his parents didn’t respect the fact that my Christmas, and now our Christmas, was the 24th/25th. We’ve always celebrated both his and my Christmas times and eventually his family caught on that I wasn’t going to budge and quit expecting us to do their bidding during this special time for us.

Another difficult aspect of Christmas is being a recovered alcoholic and dealing with all of the alcohol content throughout the world in December. Really though, it’s not really saved for special occasions anymore. Drinking, at least in the area I live in and work in, is all the time for most. Christmas just adds to all the reasons, for some, to stay intoxicated throughout. When we used to spend Christmas with my husband’s parents and siblings there was a big focus on alcohol especially with his father and brother. We no longer spend Christmases with them as his siblings and mother now live in Europe and his father has passed away. Both our work Christmas party themes each year revolve entirely around alcohol. And although this used to really bother me, I can tolerate being around people who drink, I just don’t want to be. It’s not fun for me to talk with or be a part of a crowd that’s drunk.

Maybe the hardest part of Christmas is the very first one after a loved one’s death. This year is hard for me, last year was harder, as we lost someone that I’d spent a long time looking for. It was hard not being able to be with him and equally as hard having to make arrangements for him from another country. The finality of all of it was hard to deal with. The harder is got the more I took hold of those well loved and long used traditions. I held on and took each one in–like an old familiar friend they brought me back to my happy place and I was able to survive my pain.

Last but never least are the things that happen in life that cause estrangements between family and/or friends. It can be hard to feel the season when you’re missing a dear family member, or like in my case an entire family, or a close friend. Things happen and there’s no other way to explain it. Time goes by and the window for reconciling just closes, or you become more distant, or afraid, or closed off, or just plain resistant/stubborn/angry and unable to heal the wounds. It’s a very private thing and most definitely a very painful happening. For years I missed Christmases with family. I longed at one point to just burst in the front door as a teen and refuse to leave. Waiting for a Christmas miracle that never came. Things didn’t change much when I grew older and relationships became strained and then suddenly poof. Years went by without a word or return call or letter. Again, one gets tired of rejection. Tired of feeling unloved and not needed or wanted and you emotionally move on. Every now and then there’s this hope Christmas or birthdays will change something and everything will be better. Hearts will heal and hope is alive and then as the years move on–nothing. Eventually to survive you move past your hopes and wishes, and though never forgetting, you must come to terms with it all.

I never thought I’d be able to do it and struggled so bad with moving on. I prayed, even started going to church regularly, and talking with our minister. Nothing. I struggled and struggled to let go. Then one day a few years back that all changed when “family”, and I say that only as reference, decided to show their true colors and struck out at me across the internet, hoping–I can only guess, to hurt me. Not just any hurt, but really hurt me, knowing I was ill, kicking me while I was down in the worst possible way. Months later with anger, eventually more anger, then indifference, and finally grieving, I let go. The only thing that bothered me was the why? Why would anyone try to hurt another in such a heinous, cruel, totally evil way? I would later find out from the unlikeliest source that their intent had been to cause me to “fall off the wagon.” Which of course, in 18 years, thank God, I have not. Hearing this, which I fully believed btw, made me first feel anger and then later feel pity. For they must hurt way worse than I to want for something like this to happen to someone they claimed to have loved and missed so much. They are way worse off than my worst day. Finally after much thought and prayer, I was able to really let go. And, here I am. Making my way through another Christmas clinging to the many traditions we’ve created that put smiles on our faces, and warmth in our hearts from the memories we have that will last forever.

If this Christmas or any Christmas ever feels too hard for you to bear–stop and take a breath. Choose to be happy. If not happy, choose to accept today for what it’s worth and make a plan to make tomorrow better. Start a tradition. Take each day, hour, and minute at your own pace. Do the things you want to do. Do things for others. Peace and happiness to you all.