Friday, December 22, 2006

home for christmas

I always think of the holidays as such a happy time. I love Christmas-- the decorating, the music, the traditions. I love surprising people with gifts and being surprised with gifts. I love seeing Christmas lights on houses as I drive; I love seeing little kids' faces light up when they see Santa.

The only problem with the holidays is that they're so much the same every year and that they're almost always so happy. The traditions and memories are great, and most of the time it's good for the holidays to be happy... but having a ton of happy memories of things always being the same can make things hard when they're not so happy and somehow different.

I'm sorry if this entry is kind of depressing, but I've been less excited about Christmas this year anyway, and then a recent death in the family has kept me thinking.

The year my dad died, in '98, we went away for Christmas. Every single year we spend Christmas at home in Indiana, going through the same routine of Christmas Eve at church and my grandma's to celebrate with my mom's side of the family, Christmas morning opening gifts at home with my immediate family, and Christmas afternoon getting together with my dad's side of the family. The year my dad died, my mom decided she didn't want to be home, going through the same routine, where my dad's absence would be painfully obvious. Instead, we went to Disney World. We opened presents the afternoon before we left, got a family Christmas picture with Mickey and Minnie, and wore shorts on Christmas Day. Our dad was still on our minds, but Christmas felt so different in so many ways that none of us could dwell just on him.

Even eight years later, the holidays sometimes feel funny without my dad. Sure, in some ways, I'm used to him being gone-- I can remember about as many Christmasses with him as I can without (I was eleven when he died). Still, though, it's hard when he's not here, especially because his birthday is the day after Christmas.

This year, Dad's birthday is going to be even more emotional than usual. My aunt Lucy, my dad's sister, died yesterday morning, and both her viewing and funeral will be on my dad's birthday. I know it won't be fun for me this year, but I feel even worse for my cousins, whose holidays will forever be a little tainted by this year's events. Things won't be ruined, but I'm sure they'll never quite be able to forget. I'm just glad that they're old enough to have plenty of memories of merry Christmasses, too.

I don't mean for this to be a sob story for my family and me; we're just examples. A friend of mine recently had a grandpa die, and the season's been especially hard on her grandmother because the grandma is still receiving Christmas cards and letters addressed to both her and her husband. While going through his things, she found Christmas gifts that he'd bought ahead of time but not lived long enough to give. Even when there's not a death in the family, things changing are hard. My cousins moved to Florida, and the change in climate and lack of family close by has made the holidays feel a little lonely and strange, at least at first. I know another person for whom it hasn't been easy to adjust to the differences of Christmas after a divorce.

This feels like a really depressing topic, but... I guess the older I get, the more realistic I get, and the more I see the unhappy parts of the holidays. Some of the things that are great about the holidays are the very things that can make them unbearable. The traditions are fantastic until something changes, and suddenly they just make you sad. The special things you do together are so much fun until you can't do them together anymore.

It just makes me miss being a child, I guess. I like being smarter and older most of the time, but I think Christmas is one case where ignorance is bliss. I appreciate my childhood Christmasses so much more now that I'm too old to ever see it that same way again.


Anonymous said...

My mom's sister died long before I was born, but I'm told that she died right around the holidays as well. Christmas, therefore, is a bittersweet time for my mom, too. I understand what you mean, and I think this was a really good way to get your point across. Regardless of losses and change, I hope you and your family manage to have a Happy Christmas, both now and in the future.

Anonymous said...

Jennifer: I need more Annecdotes.