It’s been quite a month, to say the least. It started on an emotional high as we spread random acts of kindness across the country. Two days later when we said goodbye to Chili, we plunged into sadness so thick that I wasn’t sure how we’d recover. Two days later when we brought Charley home, we landed in some kind of whirlpool of love, frustration, and exhaustion (with a little puppy slobber for good measure).
The Tuesday night before we had Chili put down, I told Clint that I was canceling Christmas. The year had already been hard enough up to that point–I was totally over it, totally over the expectation that I should be happy during “the most wonderful time of the year.”
I eventually relented and allowed the Christmas decorations to go up–mostly because I felt bad that our poor tree had been standing outside the living room window for a week (I imagined it peering through the window, tapping gently on the glass, and asking to be allowed in). It took another week for me I finally put a few decorations on it. That same weekend, I spent a solid 8 hours in front of the computer frantically ordering gifts for family. Eventually, I listened to some Christmas music at work.
In short, I went through the motions.
Maybe that’s all that could be expected after such a hard year. Maybe I should have patted myself on the back simply for not completely canceling Christmas.
The problem was I wanted more than that. I wanted to be imbued with Christmas spirit.
I’ll admit that I’m not sure quite what that means. Others who talk about “being in the Christmas spirit” bring tasty festive treats into work. They create huge, intricate displays of lights strung from houses, trees, bushes, and rocks (with seasonably-dressed inflatable T-Rexes for good measure). Friends gleefully post cute pictures on Facebook of their kids smiling with Santa. There’s music about joy and peace. I can appreciate the love and joy emanating from those who truly celebrate this as the season of the birth of a Savior.
This year, all of that felt empty to me.
After a good measure of kicking myself around for not feeling “it,” I finally settled down and stopped fighting. I got quiet with myself, and that allowed me space to figure out what I was looking for.
Now. When I realized that, I didn’t expect the clouds to suddenly open and heaven’s light to shine upon me and fill me with joy. I know it doesn’t work that way. But I knew I wanted to experience this as a season of joy, and, once that was clear to me, I realized it was my responsibility to be open to both seeking it and allowing it. So I started paying attention.
I found joy in unexpected places. I found it in a friend dressed in her Christmas best (moose sweatshirt, giant reindeer earrings, and antlers) while we drank Glogg. I stopped and appreciated sunsets as we got closer and closer to the moment when the days would start to get longer again. I breathed a sigh of gratitude when we could officially say the days WERE getting longer. I painted some gifts for my family. I took some time and wrapped gifts that I’m excited to give. I’ve felt joy each day watching the puppy play–the romping, the slipping and sliding through the house, the jumping from toy to toy… And especially in her angelic puppy face when she’d (finally) nap.
Tonight we watched holiday movies, including A Muppet Christmas Carol, one of my favorites (don’t judge). The music in the movie is about simple joys (how it feels like Christmas anywhere we find love, reuniting with family, keeping the giving spirit all year, etc.). Silly as it sounds, it made me stop and realize how blessed I am. We watched A Charlie Brown Christmas, which makes me cry every time, without fail. Somehow there’s joy in being reminded that this season isn’t all about gifts and money and living up to societal expectations. My heart was full tonight just getting to spend time watching movies with Clint and Mike (my father-in-law). It was special time together that doesn’t often happen.
Turns out that holiday joy is all around even during the hardest of years–just not necessarily (for me) in the places the world tells me I should find it. It’s never going to feel like it did when I was a kid. And that’s ok. There can still be magic–in giving of myself, in being aware of just how special it is to spend time with family and friends this time of year, and in adding light to the darkest time of the year. That’s the magic that matters.