Christmas is hands down my favourite holiday. I’m in love with the cold, brisk weather, the bringing of the greenery indoors, the twinkle lights, that Christmas smell of balsam, cookies, and old candles from the 1970s.
I don’t particularly enjoy wrapping presents or shopping for them, but there is still a thrill of having beautifully wrapped presents about and the warm feeling I get when people tear into the paper with the unbridled joy of childhood. I love receiving gifts, I will not lie, but I enjoy giving gifts more.
But things always change. The holidays were a great thing when I was a child, but the march of time and loss of loved one’s become a struggle in the race to keep the spirits elevated.
My paternal grandfather died when I was thirteen, just a month before the holidays. He was my only grandfather and I was very close to him. It was also my first experience with death, as my mother had tried to shield me from it during my early years. His death put me into a tail spin that I didn’t even really realize I was diving into; one which took me many years to come out of.
I wasn’t the only one affected by his death either. Things were never the same with that side of the family after his departure. My cousin, who was also very close to our grandfather, withdrew from people. My grandmother slowly started to withdraw into herself. At first she was still active, over active really, I’m sure to keep from dealing with his death. But after awhile you’d arrive and she’d have to tidy up the room you were sleeping in, which moved into a complete cleaning, which moved into making the bed, to later the room was uninhabitable. She’d stopped caring. Stopped doing house work, spent most all of her time in the nesting space she’d made for herself in the den. She no longer cared to decorate for Christmas, which was one of her favourite things ever. Then it was downhill from there; her health deteriorated and she passed away three days after Christmas two years ago. That was also the first year we didn’t spend the holiday with her because she was in hospital.
My dad’s younger brother and his family, they were always at my grandmother’s house, but over the years they became busier and busier, the kids having grown up having teenage, college and adult lives of their own.
My maternal grandmother was the second person to go. Followed by my brother. My aunt is gone as well, but simply just estranged from us. My grandmother was put into a home in 2001 and passed away in January of 2005. My brother passed away the day after Christmas in 2005.
Though the holidays had been strange for awhile, this is the moment they absolutely changed. This grandmother only lived 30 minutes north of us, we were always at her house throughout the year. But once she could no longer return to her home, Christmas abruptly ended. My parents, sister, and I were like an island in the middle of the sea. This was the wrench that was thrown into the way our lives had always flowed, that we were left standing there not completely sure what to do next.
We tried Christmas as normal as we could manage and it left a bad taste in our mouths. So, the next go around we left on holiday. It was nice and a great break of sorts. But, then my mother wanted a repeat the year after that. We went away again and all almost died. My mother was injured. It was a terrible Christmas. Then we decided to abandon traditional foods for the next few years. We ditched the turkey and dressing for random, non-traditional foods and on a later year had Chinese take-away.
We then decided to get back to normal. It was alright, it was getting better, and then one Christmas day during dinner my father almost choked to death. More subdued Christmases. Then my paternal grandmother was in hospital and our father was gone the entire month to be with her. He came home for Christmas, but things were tense since she was dying miles away.
I tend to be wordy, I know. I’m sure this was more information than one would care to know, but lucky for you (if you happen to have read this far), I could have written more… unsavory details and this would have gone from slightly uncomfortable to very unpleasant as well as boringly long.
The point is that though so much has changed and Christmases have been sour and tragic and tense, we have never wanted to stop Christmas from happening. We have been actively trying to reclaim the magic we all once knew. We always deck the halls and hang the stockings by the chimney with care. We’ve tried forcing the magic and we also tried sitting back and letting it flow. It seemed to be a precarious balancing act that we would inevitably fuck up in some small way, and like dominoes would cause a collision course to depression and lapsed hopes.
But this year feels different somehow. There is an underlying mellow sadness about the house, but the more prevalent feeling which has been missing is contentment. I’m playing Christmas music again, wrapping presents without frustration. I did have a moments cry over that first photo of my grandparents when I came across it, but for the first time it did not make me think that Christmas would be horrible. Everyone’s just sort of happy in a low-key way.
My father has been avoiding his family since his mother’s death, because he didn’t want to deal with everything hitting him in the face reminding him that she is gone. This year he said, “When we go to…”. No excuses, no back pedaling, no skipping over the topic. It just flowed out of his mouth like it would have any other year.
My sister and I are even dealing with a personal death for us that happened at the beginning of September and we’re both still feeling that this Christmas will be good.
I’m not even sure what took us so long to get to this point. I feel like these past thirteen years we’ve just been walking around with blindfolds that we, ourselves, put over our eyes. Perhaps that is exactly what we did. And for whatever reasons we all felt it was high time to rip them off our faces and toss them into the wind.