Christmas is the season of nostalgia. It's all about tradition and the memories we have associated to those traditions. But tradition in the face of loss, while it can bring comfort, is more often lackluster and sometimes painful.
Elvis Presley's smash hit of 1957, "Blue Christmas" tells the story of unrequited love during the Christmas season. He croons, "I'll have a blue Christmas without you," as he reflects on spending the holiday without the one he loves. For some, it's a depressing Christmas tune. For others, it's the song they need that speaks to their heart.
For many, the concept of a "blue Christmas" is a reality. It's not that they're a Scrooge or a Grinch, but, rather, they are facing what should be one of the most joyous times of the year missing a very special person or persons. As they watch the people around them live in the revelry of tradition, their traditions seem lost and empty without the people they love.
The losses can come in many ways. For some, it is their first holiday season following the passing of a close loved one or friend. Or perhaps a deceased loved one celebrated their birthday this time of year. Families that separate due to divorce, often find one parent spending what was once a frenzied morning of laughter and excitement in total silence. For military families, they'll have to settle for FaceTime (if they're lucky), as opposed to warm hugs. The loss of a grandparent may see some families see the end of the long standing tradition of Christmas with extended family. Some may find themselves on the losing end of a recent split in a relationship - a split they never wanted to begin with - and missing the one whom they gave their heart to. To many, the absenteeism of a person they love seems to, ironically, be the most present feeling of they day. They struggle to find the Christmas spirit within themselves, and watching the people they know overflow with happiness sharing the day with all the people they love only further reminds them of the emptiness in their own lives.
Recently, a friend of mine, who I always associate with a bubbly happiness, shared that she was struggling to get into the Christmas spirit. She lost her mother several years back, but typically seemed to manage life's ups and downs with grace. When I asked her why, she told me that her mother's birthday was in December, and she was missing her extra hard this year. She also lost a stepson a couple of years ago. "I feel like I've been going in waves of grief. I miss them both so much. Death is such a hard thing to accept." She also said that with the recent arrival of another child and being back to work full time, she was feeling overwhelmed. With all of the juggling of life, it was hard for her to find time for herself and her own emotions.
She gave me perspective and created an empathy for a feeling that never quite resonated with me, why people couldn't enjoy Christmas. While I had faced losses myself in the past, and the first holidays without always held challenges, I'd never found myself not chasing Christmas cheer. But she got me thinking of my own seasons of grief shared with the holiday season, particularly 2012 and 2017. While there were people missing in my life that I'd wished to share joys and traditions with, I always found such happiness watching Christmas through the eyes of my nephews. In a moment of simple reflection of how, through the addition of these three little rough-and-tumble balls of joy to our family, I'd found a love and a million smiles I never knew were possible, I shared how seeing Christmas (and a lot of life) through their eyes always seemed to lighten a heavy heart and hoped that she could find some happiness sharing the joy of the season with her own children.
And, just like that, we came full circle, as she thanked me for the perspective I'd unintentionally offered.
Open conversations with the people around me that have expressed displeasure at Christmas (as I hum Christmas tunes in my head) have helped me understand that many of those suffering this time of year find themselves in less than ideal situations for the holidays. It has made me more vigilant in checking-in on them and creating a conversation about how they are feeling in any given moment, especially when it is obvious they aren't at their best. It has reminded me of the true spirit of the season, that which goes beyond Bing Crosby, lights, and gift-giving. The truest spirit of giving is when you give of yourself: your kindness, your compassion, and your love.
Merry Christmas to all. May the light and love of the season find you with a smile on your face and your heart.