Stripping down Christmas | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Should I skip Christmas altogether? I already got past Thanksgiving sans family, sans turkey, although I did have a lunch date with my daughter, and a son came over for a simple dinner.

If holidays didn’t revolve around family and friends, from where would their joy come? Stripped of all the trimmings, laid bare, down to its basic essence, what would Christmas be like?

For the longest time I thought Christmas was about the children. And if I were to rate my Christmases past on those standards, those early ones—when my four children were small and we lived in the States—would be the best.

I was a hands-on mom—a yaya we had brought with us was too preoccupied with other things, and my husband with his medical specialization. I drove the children to school, I roasted the turkey, baked the pies, aged the fruitcakes I had baked in October.

I was organized and frugal, cutting out coupons and availing myself of every bargain. I was so efficient that the very next day after Christmas, I was nearly done with next year’s Christmas shopping. All the toys, bought at half price, would be stored in the attic. I was referred to as “the one with the maid” and therefore could be a full-time mom.

Hardest holiday

Alas, after 20 years, my first marriage ended. That first Christmas without my children was the hardest, and if I had survived it at all, I only had my mom to thank. She took me to a white Christmas at her younger brother’s.

Uncle Rudy shared a cozy and lovely home in Denver with his gay partner, Blaine—their own union outlasted mine. They all helped cheer me up, and I managed to laugh. Mom was right: it was the right place and the right company for my loneliest Christmas.

Only a few years older, Uncle Rudy was part of many memories of my youth; he had lived with us until he immigrated. He used to chaperone me to parties, and he could always make me laugh. He and Blaine turned out to be gracious hosts, and Uncle Rudy himself, a neat, artistic housekeeper, and a great cook, too.

Soon enough, as my shrink had assured me, all my children came back, but, too soon, they would have lives of their own. Christmas became less busy, but it left me more exhausted, somehow diminishing the joy it once brought. Still, I kept up with the exterior aspects of Christmas—gifting and over feasting, I suppose, like everybody else. Christmas remained the same, but I was changing. The circumstances around me began to change, too. My children had children of their own, and their own in-laws, my parents had gone ahead, and still Christmas kept coming, whether I was ready for it or not.

It is here again despite the pandemic, a perfect excuse—if you’re looking for one—to let Christmas pass without the usual fanfare, if not skip it altogether. Anyway, this one is not going to be anywhere near the Christmas we knew.

Nevertheless, unstoppable Christmas is in the air. By the end of November, my first gifts from the usual early senders had arrived. The whole world is faced with death, hunger and desperation; my worst Christmas is nothing compared to this. Perhaps the only consolation is that we are all in this together. No one has been spared some loss—of health or life or livelihood. The closing of shops, churches and schools has impoverished us all. We have been isolated from family and friends. Our lives have been turned upside down. And Christmas is not making it any easier. Why, indeed, does every emotion become more acute at this time of year?

Joy and pain

The pandemic has actually helped me find answers. It has forced me to reflect on what matters most. It has peeled away all the exterior aspects of Christmas, and even of life itself. In fact, I feel almost grateful for it. I realize how much less I need than what I possess. Not a huge difference, but still, some can be shared with those who have less.

I have experienced both joy and pain, the twins in the package of a finite life, most acutely. The joy I have always looked for turns out to be innate, inseparable from me. That’s why I can still laugh and be cheerful in the face of pain and loss.

At this stage of my life, gratitude for this human existence overwhelms me. And I wish to express it by giving of what I have: time to listen, whatever wisdom I’ve acquired with age, empathy, and, yes, some from my limited resources. At first, a few friends and I coursed our small contributions through priests working with their poor parishioners.

But, as good fortune would have it—or, as I prefer to believe, by an arrangement made in heaven—I met at a fundraising campaign merienda the granddaughter who had accompanied her grandmother and my mom, who were best friends, in many of their outings. The pretty younger woman walked over and introduced herself. She seemed drawn to transfer her fond affection for my mom to lucky me. Little did we know, our friendship would turn into an informal partnership for charity.

Her youthful energy and business acumen easily qualified her to do most of the work, but our pooled fund with other friends certainly could improve the lives of those who have lost everything. This little endeavor has enriched my life, given it renewed meaning and purpose; all in all, it has given me a Christmas feeling, such as I have not felt in a long, long time! INQ

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