“Don’t squander joy. We can’t prepare for tragedy and loss. When we turn every opportunity to feel joy into a test drive for despair, we actually diminish our resilience. [. . . ] But every time we allow ourselves to lean into joy and give in to those moments, we build resilience and we cultivate hope. The joy becomes part of who we are, and when bad things happen—and they do happen—we are stronger.” -Brené Brown
“A weary world rejoices…” I've had that line from Oh Holy Night running through my head for weeks now. Not the whole song. I've been too weary to even mentally make my way through the rest of the song. But that one line, that's sort of sums up this whole Christmas season.
The last month has just been too much work (and despite nine paychecks this month. . . somehow still no money) not enough sleep, too much loss, not any snow. It’s the worst sort of combination of things when you’re looking forward to a month of holiday cheer.
I have these expectations that Christmas should be about gathering together, huddling inside around the fireplace with friends and family, pulling everyone close and spending time being thankful for what you have.
|ambulance & fire department Christmas party|
We still did all our usual holidays events and gatherings: various Christmas parties for all the different jobs, caroling with the primary kids and the community carnival and parade of lights and bizarre, and of course the collection of Christmas programs for all the different kids’ schools.
|Zoran & Azia after their Christmas concert|
|Israel is in band and choir this year. He was the Grinch in the high school choir's production.|
|The boys watching the performances.|
|Christmas Caroling Crew|
|We took the kids to both the assisted living centers in town to sing Chrismas carols.|
|We stopped at Jim's so we Grandma could enjoy some carolers. I think more than half the kids singing were her grand kids.|
|The crowd at Lex's preschool for their Christmas evening.|
It’s always nice to have those holiday traditions and group celebrations to catch up with everyone.
|Kids on Stuart's float during the Parade of Lights.|
But it made me sad we didn’t do any of the little stuff we usually do that I actually like even more. We did eventually get our tree up and decorated but it took about a week. It fell over twice in the process—once after it was totally decorated. Then it stayed lying across the floor, occupying the living room—it's about a 12-foot tree—because I didn’t have the time or ambition to get it back up. Also, I have no lights in my living room so it makes it difficult to do anything at night, which is the only time we’re home, since it’s completely dark. We could have worked by the light of the Christmas tree lights, but we realized we had no working ones when we went to put them on. My brother walked in one morning and explained it looked like a Christmas bomb went off; the next day sister came through and described the state of the house as “intense.” At least my siblings are creative with their euphemisms. Israel and I were finally home at the same time a few days later & were able to get it somewhat up and back together, but that sort of set the tone for the holiday season.
Our collection of Christmas books is still on the shelf. A few weeks into the month Zoran asked why we didn’t get to do our daily advent activities this year; we didn’t even have our calendar with all the boxes to hold each day’s reading and activities out. I have little bins with the supplies for unfinished holiday projects scattered around the counters in my office, and Christmas cards that didn’t get delivered on the kitchen counter next to the plates that were never filled since we never did do our usual baking of sweets for all our friends. In some way or another we always figure in a project for the month that focuses on giving. We didn’t do it at all this year and it really felt like we were missing an important part of the holiday season.
|Christmas Elves sorting presents for delivery.|
Usually one of my favorite things about our small community is the many ways you are so connected to so many people. Sometimes that’s also the most difficult thing. Working in a collection of different organizations expands that even more, and it’s hard to see so many people you care about having such a hard time. Our community has had so much death in the last few months: both natural and unexpected, elders passing, violent murders, suicides. As much as you are saddened by those who we lose, trying to figure out how to comfort those they leave behind is yet another challenge.
|Family chaos at the Christmas Eve gathering at Mom & Dad's.|
On top of the loss, so many people around me are sick. Cancer is taking over: friends, community members, close friends’ family members, colleagues from across the hall and one across the state who has been a mentor since near the beginning of my professional career. As fall ended, it got colder and darker and drearier, it’s just felt like there was hardly any room for Christmas fun in the middle of all that. I felt myself wishing we could just skip to summer. And I don’t even like summer. This is usually my favorite time of year.
|Gingerbread house makers. Lex insisted we make real gingerbread houses this year. (Usually we use graham crackers, a much simplified version.) This worked for the most part, considering I'd never made gingerbread before. I didn't realize it would rise as much as it did, so our walls were sort of thick--kind of reminded me of concrete jails, but oh well. I think I could probably make a pretty awesome one next time around. And, of course once we started decorating the boys became nostalgic for our graham cracker houses, so they both had little barns made of graham crackers behind their gingerbread houses.|
It’s times like these small acts of kindness and spending time reminding kids what Christmas is really about is probably most important. This year the showing up for each other has been more along the lines of food for funerals and emails & cards with attempts at words of encouragement for friends, covering work obligations for people to attend doctor’s appointments. I’m hoping there will be less of that next year and more of the normal Christmas crafts and baking and visiting.
|The boys carving up the turkey and ham.|
Of course Christmas was still about that gathering together, huddling inside with friends and family, pulling everyone close (maybe even a little tighter than usual) and spending time being thankful for what we have. There is definitely a lot to be thankful for. My life, my children’s lives too, are so very, very blessed. Even the hard things, are largely the result of a life so full of so many good people it’s hard to see any of them suffer.
|While it may look like Lex is having a sparse dinner, that's only because he had a new approach for this meal were he had a different plate for each different food. This is about his third plate of five or six.|
So I’m a bit weary and battered, but definitely rejoicing still. A few days before Christmas I decided to be okay with the realization that much of what I hoped to do was not getting done. Instead I decided the last work tasks I needed to finish might as well be two weeks late rather than one. Laundry could wait until after Christmas too, and the last of the holiday sewing and baking wasn’t nearly as important as I was making it.
|Grandma makes the gravy.|
|Jenna and Azia got concert tickets. . . very exciting!|
|Getting ready for the present exchange, or a wrestling match.|
|The boys sporting their new hats from Yaya.|
|Aodhan finishing off the whipped cream (and offering to share with Grandma).|
|The cousins in the Christmas PJs. I think we're only missing Kyle.|
|Lex got a BB gun for Christmas. He was pretty excited.|
|Azia has been wanting a bow for about three months. She spent pretty much all day practicing in the yard.|
|Burning some of the piles of boxes and wrapping paper so we could actually walk through the living room.|
By Christmas Eve a little snow was finally falling. Not enough to play in or really look wintery yet, but enough to cover everything make it feel a little more calm and Christmasy. By Christmas Day, outside the movie theater, flakes were coming down again, sparkling in the street lights and enticing enough to encourage the smallest kids to chase them, trying to catch a few on their tongue. Snow at Christmas is always perfect for providing that little thrill of hope, that reminder that the rejoicing is important, especially in those times you’re feeling weary.
|2012 Christmas card cover|