Unlike most people, I wasn’t raised with stories of Santa Claus and flying reindeer.
My family didn’t get a television until I was in grade eight or nine, and even then, I didn’t see the Christmas classics until I was much older.
In my young, Evangelical mind, only one version of Christmas existed.
Reverent adults bowing their heads to a child.
Of course, this wasn't just any child.
It was Jesus. An infant born without sin. A good baby.
I'm quite certain this is why that first Christmas was so magical. So silent and calm.
No one ever depicted scenes of a screaming, colicky Jesus. Or a red-faced toddler, throwing his clay cup on the floor.
There weren't any dirty diapers in a bucket. No dishes piled up in the sink.
Mary wasn’t on her knees, scrubbing the floors, getting ready for visitors, glaring at Josef because he hadn't taken out the garbage.
Instead, there was just that holy, Hallmark moment—and that special star, spreading the light of love across the world.
THIS was the Christmas we tried to live up to.
And every year we failed.
But certainly not from a lack of effort.
I have nothing but admiration for my parents who, even with money as scarce as it was, always made sure we had a decorated tree with presents beneath it.
My mother worked hard to make sure there was turkey and stuffing and pumpkin pies and mashed potatoes. But invariably something wouldn't turn out the way she expected. There were always too many people in the kitchen—most of them trying to sneak a piece of turkey off the platter before she had a chance to get it to the table—and before you knew it, someone had been slapped, and instead of peace and joy on earth, there was crying.
So we turned our hopes to the next year.
But then someone would ruin it with a fever, or with too much excitement that had been stirred up by the Sears catalogue, all of us yearning for things my parents couldn't afford.
Instead of magic, there was guilt and disappointment and hard feelings.
The truth is, we all wanted Christmas to be something it could never be, and we secretly blamed each other for our sense of disconnection and loss.
In my twenties, when I was out in the world on my own, (and had discovered the work of Martha Stewart ) I set my sights on a different kind of Christmas.
Forget Jesus and all those impossible standards. Forget the church with it's hard pews and unbearably long sermons. I was going to create the Christmas I longed for with my own two hands.
And for awhile, I did.
I found I had a talent for making things beautiful. When I was 24, I got a job in Visual Presentation and began studying flower arranging and bow-making and proper gift wrapping. I learned how to professionally light and decorate trees and it wasn't long before I was free-lancing on the side, getting paid to dress dozens of store-front windows every season.
I loved the art of presentation, with all it's aesthetic beauty and intricate details. but I'll be honest. That kind of perfection is hard to keep up.
By my mid-thirties, after years of cooking and cleaning and planning and arranging and tree-trimming and gift-wrapping and wreath-making and garland hanging, (not to mention the clean-up of all those pine needles)—I was DONE.
I told my (then) husband that I was sick of it all. And to my delight, he hired a cleaner and had our next Christmas catered.
But there were still the logistical issues of travelling between his family and mine which often meant braving icy highways during blizzard conditions to reach them.
There was also his mother to contend with—a woman who saw herself as the head of the family and had strict rules about Christmas that seemed impossible to break.
My eventual divorce from her son, as devastating as it was, gave me a great deal of Christmas relief.
Of course, if I had known how to create healthy boundaries, I doubt a divorce would have been necessary. But that's how life works, doesn't it? It shows us where we need to develop so we can evolve into the people we were always meant to be.
And I did evolve.
But my feelings about Christmas didn't.
At least, not until my brother Troy (who disliked the stress of the season nearly as much as I did) suggested we do something different.
Why don't we all stay at a hotel this year?
It was a brilliant idea.
No more traveling to each other's houses. No more cooking and cleaning. No more (over)decorating for guests. No more shopping anxiety.
We could get our own suites, do our own thing, and yet still be together.
My mother paid for a large family suite where we could work on puzzles and watch movies and play games. There was a pool for the kids, a hot-tub for the adults and a quality restaurant where we could all have a beautiful meal.
And while the family dynamics hadn't actually changed, there was enough breathing space around our differences to allow for true comfort and joy.
It was the first time in my life that I authentically enjoyed Christmas with my family of origin.
Then my brother died.
And I couldn't imagine ever going to that hotel again.
And yet we did. It seemed important to keep going because that’s where we had made some of our happiest memories.
We went for three years, but somehow during that time the breathing space around our differences slowly narrowed into a choke-hold.
I couldn't ignore my inner feeling of suffocation. My family loves me, I know this, but within their love is a thread of sorrow about the person I turned out to be.
When they look at me, they see me through the lens of Christianity, as someone who's lost and needs to be saved.
I get it, I do. I understand that their belief system won’t allow them to recognize the divinity within me. And I'm not trying to change that.
But this year, I want to meet Christmas on my own terms.
I want to bow my head to my own inner light and sit in that place of undisturbed peace.
Because I can't fully connect to the people I love, until I first fully connect to ME.
To my wholeness.
To stillness and silence.
And this year, I’ve finally given myself permission to do that.
Sending you so much love,
PS. If you need support this year for the Holidays then may I suggest Jaya’s Take The Wheel Program priced at $22 US for Christmas 2019. It's chock-full of spiritual-meets-practical supports that I know you'll love.
Photo by Anita Austvika on Unsplash