Christmas is cherished as a time of love, joy and giving. However, it took me years to appreciate the beautiful spirit of the holiday. It is a time to gather with our families, and share special gifts of love and kindness. Growing up though, Christmas had a much harsher reality for me. My life never measured up to a Hallmark movie, and I was resentful and sad.
I was the Grinch.
For a long time, I was like the Grinch who stole Christmas. If you have seen the new Grinch (2018), I really like it because they give him a backstory. Turns out, he was an orphan. He hated Christmas because he grew up alone, and he wanted love instead of missing out on what was a special time for everyone else. Reminds me of me.
For years, I thought that hated Christmas. I convinced myself that I hated all the light displays, the music, and the commercialism, but much like the Grinch, I really just hated feeling alone.
I wasn't an orphan, but being with my family sometimes made me wish that I was. I was the black sheep of our generation and any time I went to a family get-together, no matter how briefly, all they did was make me feel bad about myself. I felt more lonely in a room full of family than I ever felt when I was alone.
Christmas as a kid.
I'm sure when I was a small child I probably enjoyed Christmas, but it always felt half-hearted to me.
Our family always got together for the holidays, along with some of my mom's old college friends. My cousins and I would play hide and seek for hours, and sit at the kids table eating as many helpings of mashed potatoes as possible.
But at the grown-ups table, it wasn't always sunshine and roses. By the end of the night, most of them were drunk, and some of them were usually arguing.
The older I got, as the oldest of the cousins, I really began to realize just how dysfunctional our family was, and how unwelcome I felt with my relatives.
Christmas as I got Older
As soon as I was old enough to have my first job, I made it a point to offer to work every holiday. Since most people are asking for the day off, I never had a problem working on Christmas. Often, even double shifts.
I avoided my family more and more because I knew that they were toxic.
I didn't care about the gifts, or the songs, or the food. All I wanted was for someone to be nice to me, or at the very least, not talk down to me. Make it a competition on who made more this year or was better off. Turning discussions into lectures, mistakes made and no forgiveness given.
Family or not, my life improved considerably withdrawing myself from this negative environment and so far have no regrets.
I stole Christmas from my daughter.
I feel bad for my older daughter because I eventually got so disillusioned with Christmas that I stopped celebrating altogether.
Since I hated Christmas, she hated Christmas. Or maybe for her it is more just ambivalence. Every year, I only gave her one gift. I didn't go to Christmas dinner. I avoided without being able to explain when she was younger. By the time I started celebrating for real, she was too old to really get into it. I took that away from her, just as surely as my family took it away from me. It's a regret I have tried to rectify, but something I can't take back.
She says she doesn't remember much about those holidays as a child, what she remembers is the good things about our day to day life. For that I am grateful. At least my sadness hasn't ruined Christmas for her completely.
Hearing my daughter say that she remembers what was good on a daily basis makes me realize that Christmas just shines a spotlight on the feelings that we experience the rest of the year. When those feelings are good, then we have a special Christmas. But, when those feelings are bad, then Christmas is horrible.
Coming Full Circle.
The first time Christmas was special for me was the first Christmas that I spent with my partner, Gary. We had only been living together for a few months and he got me my own glittery white tree with purple ornaments to decorate. Then, for Christmas eve, we had some friends over for dinner, drank hot spiced wine, and stood around the piano singing Christmas carols together.
That first Christmas with Gary is the first real Christmas that I ever had. The first Christmas filled with love, with joy, with happiness and comradery. It was the first year I could relax, and not wonder what horrible thing was going to happen to me. That year I could look at the lights and just think how beautiful they were, instead of feeling resentment towards people who were happy. It was the first Christmas that I was finally happy.
Like the Grinch, I didn't really hate Christmas either. I just wanted so badly for my family to love me, and Christmas was this big flashing neon sign saying how much they just didn't. As I created a new family and found real love, I was able to finally appreciate all the joys that Christmas had to offer.
For me, Christmas isn't about the gifts, or the dinner, or even about family. I had all those things growing up and I was still horribly unhappy. I think the problem I had was that I equated in my mind all those rituals with what love is supposed to be. But the ritual itself isn't love. Oftentimes, those rituals are performed with love by many people who cherish them, but real love is there with or without the ritual.
My toddler is a Christmas baby. So when she was born, I spent Christmas morning at the hospital. As she gets older, we are learning to navigate balancing her birthday celebration, and our Christmas celebration.
When she came into the world, it was a moment of ultimate love. Our little family was circled around our new addition. She brought our family together, and now our holiday is more special since she has become a part of it.
As she grows up, she knows that Christmas is a fun and happy time. We have the tree, the Advent calendar, we make cards and cookies, and spend time laughing with friends. It is a beautiful and fun season that we can look forward to now.
Christmas in Germany.
In 2018, we were lucky enough to go and spend 2 weeks in December in Germany, and we went on a river cruise to see every Christmas Market up and down the Rhine. It was truly a special trip because I got a glimpse into how Gary spent Christmas growing up, and all the beautiful traditions of the European Christmas Markets.
We toured churches and castles that were 1000's of years old and still breathtaking, and Gary's mom taught us about the history as we walked through them in quiet awe. It was humbling to experience a culture so much older than ours in the US, and still so authentic and beautiful.
My toddler, River, rode a carousel in every city's Christmas Market and the newest one was still over 50 years old. We ate wonderful food, drank spiced wine in special mugs, took in the sights and sounds of Christmas all around us, and bought unique and wonderful gifts.
I feel truly blessed that I was able to experience the German Christmas Markets, and see how beautiful Christmas can be when it is more about tradition, togetherness, food and fun. All through the background, runs a spirit of aliveness, wonder and magic that I have not experienced the same way stateside.
Give from the heart.
This is a season of giving, and instead of worrying so much about the material things they gave us children, I wish my parents had worried more about giving to my sister and I of our hearts. Love means more to kids than toys or chocolates, than expensive gifts.
For children, knowing that you give them your time, your care, and your attention is so important. My toddler has been making homemade gifts for everyone in the family and putting in hours worth of work and caring for all of us. That is where the real spirit of Christmas lies, in gifts of love and care.
In our house, it is my partner who brings the spirit of Christmas to life for all of us with a lovingly decorated tree, beautifully cooked food, and wonderful surprises. It is friends gathered around the piano enjoying music and good company. I am truly blessed to have found someone with a kind and giving heart, and his love spills over into our whole household and makes the holiday really special.
Gary gave me more than a Christmas tree that first year we spent together, he also gave me the gift of knowing what real love is. With my family, love was always like fingers clutching at me with endless, insatiable need. With Gary, love was a hand that was outstretched to give. Real, unconditional love gives, without asking for anything in return. And in that giving, it creates a softness and a desire to give in the receiver.
As adults, our Christmas doesn't need to look the same as it did when we were kids, as long as we celebrate in a way that is right for ourselves and our kids, and we enjoy the day together. Whether our Christmas is big or small, the most important part is that it is filled with love.
It took me thirty years of sadness, but I finally do know that Christmas really is a celebration of love. But to celebrate love, you need to have love. So maybe if someone in your life is Grinch-like too, you may want to compassionately question their backstory too, instead of making assumptions about their heart or their shoes, like 50 years of Dr. Seuss viewers did with him.
I was angry, blah and sad at Christmas because I didn't understand what real love meant. I took a mistaken idea of love from my parents, where love always came in the form of stuff. Meanwhile, I was starved for kind words and affection. Once I learned to understand that their version of love wasn't serving me, I was able to open my heart and allow the Christmas spirit to come inside.
Like the Grinch, my heart "grew 3 sizes" on that first real, beautiful Christmas with Gary. People can change for the better, and so can our ideas about what the holidays mean. Love helps us to grow. And I am so lucky and blessed to have found love because you see, love is the gift that keeps on giving. The more love you have, the more you are able to love others too.
Now, I am able to spread love to my children, friends, and even strangers at Christmas time. I hope that you have found the love of Christmas too. Let me know what you think in the comments!