On Christmas

I sat with a pile of gifts at the counter waiting to be checked out. I looked at the things sitting there and thought about the commercialism and consumerism and waste that just goes into all that…stuff. I wanted to walk away. I waited patiently, making small talk, as the items were wrung up and bagged.

I’m tired of forced cheer, but I love the twinkle lights and the snow and the aisle of wrapping paper. I like all the options and the promise of something new neatly tucked away with a bow and a label on top. And, for the second year in a row, I’ve had a meaningful conversation with a stranger in the wrapping aisle. (I wonder what it means that I, who usually doesn’t partake in any kind of small talk and certainly not with strangers, ends up talking to someone about a family squabble one year and a recent cancer diagnosis another. Is it something about the wrapping paper or Christmas that makes people willing to talk to a stranger about the hurt they are carrying around? Maybe I should try it next year? I wonder if I’d find a person as willing to listen as me.)

I think like most grown-ups I have a love/hate relationship with this holiday. It’s all anticipation and magic and joy and expectation and work and loneliness and family (which ever side of the love/hate coin that falls on – or maybe just the edge). I love advent and the season of anticipation. I love “putting hay in the manger” (aka finding ways to make the world a little brighter for those whose days may not be so bright). I love celebrating the darkness (and return of light) with candles and strands of twinkling bulbs. I hate feeling like everything good gets lost in the shuffle. I hate feeling lonely. I hate the knowledge that no gift opening will ever feel as good as the Christmas when I was thirteen and my grandmother gave me the watch that I WANTED WANTED WANTED (and was sure no one bought me).

I still feel glimpses of magic between my bah-humbug. I went to Mass where we sang Christmas carols and my daughter held my hand for just an instant longer that necessary after the Our Father. We visited with family and ate shrimp off a Christmas tree (I don’t know, it’s become a beloved tradition) and opened presents after which my son curled up on my lap and rested his head on my shoulder for so long we thought he’d fallen asleep. Today was a simple, peaceful day in our pajamas playing with the things Santa brought us. We ate a lovely meal lovingly prepared. I learned how to play Minecraft using a game controller and had my battleship sunk. So the magic is still there – it’s just dimmer and quieter and never in the thing and far too fleeting.

Anyway, all that to say…I hope you found some moments of Christmas magic this year amidst the gray and the consumerism and the hard. I hope you had someone to listen to you – even if it was just for a brief moment in the wrapping paper aisle at Target. And finally, I appreciate you listening to me as I type into the void. Have a very merry!!!

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  • Oh Kate, SO MUCH I understand!! I read this post at about 5 am this morning (twice). I knew I want to connect with you about this… and yes, just think of me in the wrapping paper aisle as a loving listener! I’m usually one that strangers just feel comfortable confiding in; it assist their healing of whatever they are going through.

    More to share later… You are sweet as coconut pie!

  • Hi Kate!
    I hope post-Christmas—this week-and-a-half until the kids go back to school—is better for you. I think you probably know where I am with Christmas and consumerism so I won’t even go there in this comment. I do think that the forced joy of the holiday season is incredibly difficult for a lot of people (including me) and when that’s put together with where we currently are as a society, it amplifies the loneliness, leading to people opening up to random strangers. I think it’s lovely that you were there—a listener—for someone who needed to be heard and understood. That’s a wonderful gift to give to a stranger, Kate.

    Love the photo of your son! What’s he reading? (And—did you get all your gift knitting done?)

    • I love that picture too!! We’ve been reading Wonder together. Just finished last week actually. We don’t read together every night as he signed up to compete in Battle of the Books and he needs to be doing some reading with that. It took us quite a bit. We’re going to take a little break so he can focus on Battle books and when that’s over we’ll pick up Auggie and Me. It’s nice because he’ll take turns reading aloud with me.

      My gift knitting was a bit of a bust this year. I told myself that first thing in January I’m going to make a list of the gifts I’m doing (after good consideration of my stash) and I’m going to knit from that list instead of all willy-nilly. How about you – knitting complete? I hope your holiday went well?

      • I read Wonder to my youngest, too, several years ago 🙂 . It sounds as though your son has gotten over his reading slump? (I remember a year or two back you were having great difficulty finding stuff he was interested in; I hope the fact that he’s signed up for a reading competition means he’s once again enjoying reading.)

        Oh well—some years things just fly off the needles and other years it’s like puling teeth! Planning the year’s knitting in January sounds like a really good idea. My knitting went over well. (I had a very short list and did get it done.) My holiday was ok. I managed to do everything I absolutely needed to do, but not always lovingly…

        • He still doesn’t love to read and I still wish that wasn’t the case, but he DOES read and I guess that’s the most I can hope for.

          I’m glad to hear you finished your knitting and your holiday to do list. I think expecting to finish it all lovingly this time of year might just be asking too much. Xoxo.

  • Oh, Kate–I’ve missed your voice! You have a way of putting into words just what I’m feeling. I hate the consumerism and love the lights and twinkle. I miss more people than I am with. It is both freeing and a little sad to care not one whit about what might be in any packages with my name on it. This is the first year in many that my feelings have fallen more on the love side than the hate, but it is still a mixed bag. I think it will probably always be.

    One of my bright spots, too, was a moment of connection with a stranger in a long line at World Market. I’m not sure what made it happen, but I suspect (like so many things) it is the dark part of the season that made that moment of light happen.

    Your Christmas sounds lovely, and I’m thankful you took some time in that day to share these words with all of us (even if it’s taken me a few days to find them.)

    • I am glad to hear that you landed more on the love than hate side of feelings this year and so grateful for your reminder that I am not alone in my ambivalence toward this holiday.

      I wrote some notes and tucked them away for myself for next year because there are certain things that no one enjoys that I somehow feel HAVE to be done and then we’re elbow deep in icing and everyone is miserable and I’m like “WAIT, we hate this. Let’s not do this next year.” Then next year rolls around and I somehow manage to forget that gingerbread house making just involves lots of eating the candy, fighting over who came up with what idea and who ate all the gumdrops, not to mention a GIANT mess and I say, “Oh, but we HAVE to. It’s so fun.” Madness.

      Finally, it’s really wonderful when you have those connections, isn’t it? It makes the season a little warmer and fuzzier (and honestly, I think that’s more Christmas than gingerbread houses anyway! 😉 )

      • Your description of gingerbread house building made me smile. We had a similar tradition until I realized that it was…exactly as you describe! I gave myself permission this year to do much less. It’s easier with no children living at home any more (although I really miss having children at Christmas). It was the most mellow, easy Christmas I’ve had in…probably two decades? Or more? I think that ease is part of what allowed for the moment of grace in the checkout line. The other woman looked so stressed, and it was easy for me to do a small thing to ease it. And then she did a small favor for me. I don’t know if I’d have been in that place in other years. I think your note idea is a great one!