I remember so vividly, at my first teaching job I had befriended an educational assistant. That was about 24 years ago and I couldn’t even tell you her name, what she looked like or what classroom she worked in with me. I can, however, tell you that she wrote one of those Christmas letters about what her family was up to. I can tell you that I remember the photo of her two sweet blonde children at the bottom of the letter and I can most definitely tell you that her meandering words from “glass full of wine to glass empty” at page end left me in such a dreamy state. I truly hope I have that letter somewhere still, with all my collage bits and pieces. It was just so mesmeric. But if I don’t I still have the feeling after all these years.
I don’t write those annual Christmas letters, but this post is an attempt to even reach her articulate and beautiful correspondence.
As I sit in my peaceful home, this Christmas of 2020 sipping on some homemade eggnog gifted from dear friends I am filled with a gratitude and acceptance of what this year has provided me. My tree is decorated. My stocking is literally hung by the fireplace. I have completely bought into the idea of Christmas, the twinkling lights, the winter walks, the puff of icy sugar snow on everything, twinkle tours, Christmas music, even shoveling. This season is so beautiful. It fills my heart. However, it hasn’t always been like this for me.
As a child I loved Christmas. I’d barely sleep to see what Santa had stuffed in my stocking. The excitement was real. Gift opening, church, traditions. We’d often have friends and family over for big meals. Adults ate at the adult table and kids at the kid table “over there.” The house smelled delicious and we always ate way too much. Sometimes in those early years we’d even end up dancing some good ol’ Greek folk dances. Good memories.
As I stepped into adulthood my excitement for Christmas was snuffed by less enthusiastic partners. To avoid conflict I would down play my joy instead of fighting for it. One individual left me on Boxing Day. That also did a number on the season. In the years that came I was sure that Christmas was for people with happy partners and children. My sister did a great job in including me in her Christmas decorating while her children were young. I’m forever grateful for those memories but I still thought it was not for single people like me and there was no point in putting up a tree. Christmas was just one more thing I was going to work through and re-negotiate on my lonely terms.
Until I moved in with Thea Patra. I lived with her for nine months as I built my new house. She was so generous in her space and her lessons. One cold morning I went down stairs to get something and in the darkness of the pre-dawn she had quietly adorned a corner of her basement with a small tree, lights, and decorations while I slept. I came around the stairs and the sight caught me. I actually gave a small exhaled gasp. I felt like a little kid. It was an instant time machine to Christmas morning when I was little.
Back upstairs over coffee and an egg (she made this every morning for me) I said “Thea, Santa was here!” and she smiled “Yes, Angie, Santa was here.” Over the next few days I watched her decorate her house, bring out ornaments and arrange all the sparkly pretty festive things everywhere, even the bathroom. I told her I admired her for being so into Christmas. With fists full of decorations, in her Greek accent she said “We have to be happy Angie! We have to. We don’t know what’s going to happen. Christmas is a sad time for me but I’m living, you know? So I have to be happy.” And just like that I bought what this woman was selling. She’s had quite a life and every reason to mourn her experience but there is no time for a pity party. We have to be happy. She said it like it was a law. It should be.
And that was that. I have to be happy. So, the very next Christmas in my new home I purchased my first tree in almost two decades. I decorated it with the most precious ornaments that I dug out of dusty bins. I felt like I was opening a treasure chest of Christmas—hope. I strung the lights and hung the ornaments and sat in silence staring at the tree. It was a symbol of the lesson that I should be happy with or without children, with or without a spouse. My joy was solely my own. Coming up the walk at night seeing the twinkling colored lights inside my home, snow coming down magically triggered that place I refused to go to for so long. I’m not sure why I resisted because it’s gorgeous here in the Christmas time.
I put up my tree with music playing, and put out all sorts of decorations. I hung a wreath on my steps and was gifted a wreath for my front door. I’ve lit candles and played Christmas song, baked a little to fill the house with delicious smells. I put the nativity scene under the tree and drove around looking at lights. The tree is more than the tree. It’s the symbol and it’s relevant.
Despite social restrictions (groups over five will not gather) lets keep in mind that we don’t have restrictions on sending love, collectively sitting with the notion of peace and happiness, being fully present with our few people—those we bring to our table. There are no restrictions on keeping this feeling and carrying it forward into a new year. The magic of Christmas is real and the build up shouldn’t disappear the day after. It won’t for me.
May you all, individually, find a soft and gentle comfort with your selected few. May you feel love and may peace fill your home and hope fill your heart as we stride through these days a little differently than last year but just as meaningfully, or maybe more so.
Turn on the twinkling lights and turn up the volume on your experience, because to quote a brilliant 80 year old “We have to be happy.”
Merry Christmas and blessings to you.