I’m not really a grudge holder. In fact, it’s often hard for me to stay mad at anyone for longer than a few minutes. And yet, regardless of the ease with which I can forgive and forget, I have held on to a few basic feelings for a very long time. One of those has to do with Christmas.
My holidays growing up weren’t terrible, but they also weren’t amazing. I seriously doubt if anyone’s were, but my goal here isn’t to dispense with someone else’s childhood fantasies. I was the only actual kid in my family, 10 years younger than my closest brother, and 14 years younger than my oldest. By the time I was 6 or 7, they were barely even around, much less doing kid stuff for the holiday. As I got older—and they, of course, were even older—there was a lot of drinking and misbehaving. Nothing different than what probably happened over a lot of people’s Christmas dinners, but it just never matched the loving and wholesome picture I longed for.
Maybe the decade of our 60s is a good time to give up our fight against all of those things we are sure we hate.
My Christmas scenes remained less than ideal. For many years in my adult life, there were family obligations to be met—mine or those of my partner at the time. It was fine doing this, but it still felt like Christmas on other people’s terms. Even in my 20s, preparing a meal for a group of people who mostly made me nervous, I was building my personalized bitter case against the whole holiday. By the time I was 40 or so, I was planning trips away from home, set to begin the moment the last Christmas dinner plate had been removed from the dishwasher and returned to the cupboard. All along, the more resentful I got about Christmas, the harder it became to enjoy anything related to it. I spent a good four decades deeply committed to hating the holiday.
Until this year. The softening started gradually. At first, I asked Jodi if she wanted to buy a fresh tree, or just put up the artsy metal one that we used last year. I said it to try and be a nicer person than I often am at this time of year, and because her earnest goodness deserves at least occasionally to be met with openness. But then, when she said a fresh tree would be lovely, I felt it, too. We went to a tree lot we’ve gone to before and immediately found a fir we loved. We decorated it over a few days, spent a Sunday morning lining our outdoor front windows with lights, and I felt different. It was a small and quiet change, but I realized my feelings about the holiday had been altered.
Every time I walk past the room where the tree sits regally in front of the window, I can smell that wonderful evergreen scent, and it makes me feel happy. Last weekend, we did some fun and creative Christmas shopping and then, while Jodi wrapped, I made gingerbread men. It was almost a scene from a Hallmark movie. The really lovely part, though, was that we weren’t trying to star in that romantic film. My expectations were so low, that just doing something spontaneous with each other has turned out to be the most fun ever. For the first time in many, many years, I’m not counting the days until Christmas is over.
There is clearly a life lesson here, amid gift-wrapping paper, Christmas cards and handmade cookies and candy from many talented friends. Maybe the decade of our 60s is a good time to give up our fight against all of those things we are sure we hate. Maybe it’s the best time ever to let go of a hard, sad story that no longer holds any real meaning. I can’t tell you how freeing it is, and such a treat. I’ve stood so far away from everything related to Christmas for so many years, that I hardly noticed the small things right in front of me that were fun and lovely and sweet. Life really is what’s right in front of me—not what I conjure in my too-busy brain. My biggest gift this Christmas is this surprising chance I'm finding to tell a whole new story.