Just call me an old curmudgeon, but Christmas feels like just another day. I've had fleeting moments of awe and joy, where my heart feels warm and my body light...until mortal life pulls it back down and I continue plodding along.
The most likely reason is bittersweet memories. Holidays are fraught with triggers for old fears and tears.
I remember the fear as dad was always particularly....tense for Christmas. As if he can barely control and contain his own anger. Even as a kid, my holiday anticipation and joy was very much tempered by the fear of dad,well, exploding. Sometimes it was Christmas Eve. Sometimes Christmas Day. And sometimes he could last until the day after Christmas.
I loved going to Christmas Eve Mass. He did not, and found many reasons to criticize anything religious or related to Christmas. He was determined to make his foul mood infect ours as that gave him some sort of twisted glee to know he was not alone in his misery.
Even gift-giving was fraught with buried land-mines, where even with vigilant awareness and monitoring, one could take the wrong step and set him off. One such wrong step is, after dozens and dozens of gifts, is failing to show over-the-top appreciation for even the 30th gift. Christmas became a chore. And the gifts became guilt-trip tools. If we incurred dad's wrath in some way or another, gifts, expensive things, and in my case, the hearing aid and cochlear implant, would be invoked to try to procure absolute obedience from us. Problem was, his definition of what constitutes good behavior varied from day to day, from mood to mood, and involved a large amount of mind-reading. Meaning: you just can't win.
It's hard to write over 21 years of negative associations with Christmas. I'm still getting to where I can appreciate gifts without fearing that it'll be used against me. I'm still working on enjoying Christmas Masses without getting panicky and fearful (for no reason other than memories).
I also remember the good bits. When I discovered NORAD's Santa Tracking website, I remember how excited my little siblings were. "Where is he now?" "Japan! And there's a video!" "I wanna see!"
I remember how they practiced playing Christmas songs on the piano. One two three four one two three-four one two three four one-two three-four, they whispered while playing Good King Wenceslas.
I remember singing Christmas songs at night around the Christmas tree, when it was the only light in the house, when the little ones tried to get us to sing the longest Christmas songs we knew in an effort to stave off bedtime longer.
Mom: "Okay, one more song!"
The little ones: "Tweve days of Cwistmas!"
Mom: "No, that's too long."
The little ones: "O Come O Come Emanwell! I wanta sing all the verses."
Mom: "No....we'll sing just one verse."
Last Monday, a friend shared a video of a Christmas song flash mob at a mall, and at "O Holy Night," I cried. I have a video of Little Sister #1 singing O Holy Night while mom played the piano. The stars are brightly shining... Four years ago since I made that video.
As my therapist has been reminding me, I'm creating new memories with my husband. New traditions.
The old memories and traditions are okay, but I know I can't live in the past. The little ones are growing up, while my last Christmas memories of them are from four years ago. I can't celebrate Christmas with them right now, and sometimes it's easier to bear the sadness and loss when I simply don't think about Christmas.
So, I'm trying. New traditions. Perhaps we'll go see the Hobbit on Christmas Day?