Christmas never felt very merry to me. In fact, Christmas always made me feel a little sad. All I ever remember wanting for Christmas was for it to be over. The excitement of giving and getting gifts rarely sparked my spirit and no amount of decorations completely covered the underlying discomfort I felt with the many rituals surrounding each Noel.
I wouldn’t have been able to put my finger on it when I was young, but Christmas was an ever-present reminder of how untraditional my family is. My parents divorced when I was very young. Both my mother and father remarried and had two new children each. My stepparents had families of their own with annual traditions, unique and personal ways of expressing faith, and extended families that made every year’s celebration different from the last.
If we had traditions, they were hard to keep. Either that or I was too busy negotiating an ever-changing holiday terrain to notice patterns from one year to the next. My youth was filled with love and loving individuals, it’s just my Christmases never looked anything like anyone else’s I’d encountered or like those depicted on television or in the movies.
When I thought about Christmas, I thought about Charlie Brown’s sad tree, Rudolph’s shiny — but initially unacceptable — red nose and the land of misfit toys. All’s well that ends well in both It’s a Beautiful Life and A Christmas Carol, but they were innately gloomy stories at their core. The main characters are so glum they can’t enjoy Christmas while their families and everyone else around them celebrate. I related to the angst of those characters, and with the angst of each and every poignant story laced into the lining of the holiday season.
It’s either wisdom and age or the electronic age but I no longer pay that much attention to whether or not my traditions look like anyone else’s. My wildly overextended family is a gift that keeps growing and the real poignant stories are the ones we make and tell each other. As each year has passed our stories cast wider nets and non-conformity has become a custom.
This time of year has great power. Regardless of faith, we tend to think about “the poor, the homeless, the hungry and the destitute” with a softer heart. We pull up an extra chair for the unanticipated guest and we make sharing traditions the trend, no matter how untraditional those traditions are. We are more open to one another, more generous with our understanding, and more aligned around a shared vision of unity.
Politically polarized persons are sitting around tables today practicing manners we should use with one another throughout the entire year. They are talking about Duck Dynasty or whether or not it’s ok to paint a Santa of a different color, but they are having those discussions more gently, and listening more intently. Extended family members will disagree – agreeably – because today’s spirit is intended to extend to the ones we love, the ones we tolerate and even those we don’t understand. That’s not a bad tradition.
We all have twisted and gnarled family trees and no two look exactly alike. What we see on the other side of each other’s fences, around the dinner table and under one another’s trees means a lot to us because we love wrapping our packages and labeling them. And once we put our tag on, it isn’t easy to take it off.
This time of year never felt merry to me because I wasn’t open to challenging my own expectations of what this time of year was supposed to look like from the outside. From one year to the next I was in a new place with a different group of people abiding an out of the ordinary schedule. That felt inherently wrong and unlike everything I learned about the Yuletide holiday, so I rejected the sentiment while others donned their gay apparel.
The stories I thought were sad aren’t; they are traditions. Charlie Brown’s tree gets the love it needed; Rudolph doesn’t have to hide his red nose; and every year we find new ways to make a place for loved ones who though tradition had relegated them to Island of Misfit Toys.
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