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Years ago, in 1999 to be exact, celebrating the Holidays lost its luster (yes, pun intended) for me. In September of that year, my mom died. When the holiday season rolled around just two months later, I was mired in grief so palpable it felt like my heart was being squished. I would burst into tears at the smallest of things. Then it started; the seasonal well-wishers who didn’t have any idea of what was going on inside of me or that I was mourning the loss of not only my mother, but a way of life.
1999 was a big year for me. When my mom unexpectedly died, I realized how deeply unhappy I was in my (starter) marriage. I realized how quickly things can change and I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life in a marriage that was harmful and hurtful. I also realized that my excitement for the Holidays was irrevocably tarnished. It felt like I was seeing everything in monochromatic colors instead of the bright, festive colors that once were. It felt like, if you’ll forgive my indulgence, I had just discovered after years and years of believing in Santa, that it was all a cruel lie.
Now, I was never one to go overboard on Christmas both in the gift giving and decorating aspect. In fact, in all the years I was single, I never put up a Christmas tree. Not once. Why bother? I wasn’t here for Christmas; I was with my family at their home(s). I would tire of people saying, “Did you put up your tree?” and having to justify why I hadn’t and wouldn’t. You wouldn’t believe the comments or the incredulous looks I received for this simple act of not conforming. You would have thought I told people I worshiped the devil. I’m not kidding. This still happens today, but I no longer feel the need to justify my actions.
The question, “Do you have all your Christmas presents bought?” is asked by well-meaning individuals and I get the reasoning behind it as it’s top bragging rights if you have. But for me, I feel like it’s no one else’s business, even though I know they are just making small talk. When I reply, “I don’t buy gifts” I’m given the look. You know the one; wider, slightly disbelieving eyes, mouth agape and head cocked to the side. You can almost hear people wondering if they’ve heard me correctly. You’d think not buying gifts was a sacrilege!
It was around the time of my divorce that I started to feel empowered enough to stop the rat race of gift giving, too. Those changes were occurring because of my girl Charmaine telling me her thoughts on how she was trying to live her life (see my Networking blog) and me trying to apply those thoughts to my life. Well, it was that and the fact I was once again in mourning (loss of my marriage) and I physically didn’t have the finances to buy gifts.
It was incredibly liberating (although scary to go against the norm) to let my relatives/friends know I wouldn’t be giving gifts. In reality, some even took a page from my book and pared down their lists. You see, I subscribe to the theory of giving gifts all year long. Those gifts, whether they are random acts of kindnesses, a large gratuity or a physical gift, mean more to me and feel real versus the banal, stress-filled experience of buying/wrapping/giving Christmas gifts.
Oh yes. Long ago, through my own experiences (aren’t those the best ways to learn?), I realized not everyone is festive and excited for the Holiday season. I realized there were others who were grieving a loss of a job, a death or the demise of a relationship. I understood then that there were others, still, who were struggling with anxiety, depression or even abuse.
Prior to 1999, I was one of those who would end a conversation with, “Merry Christmas!” or “Have a happy Thanksgiving.” Now you’ll not hear me utter those words unless you have said them to me. As a side note, you also will not hear me wish you a happy Valentine’s Day as I was lonely for far too many of them, some even while I was married.
I’m deeply aware, both through personal experience and my Work, that others are in emotional pain during a season where merriment rules. So for me, if I don’t wish you a season’s greeting, it’s not because I’m being unpleasant or have lost my ability to make polite small talk. It’s because I’m trying to honor those who own their grief during a season where grief is not acknowledged.
But before you think I’m all Ebenezer Scrooge, I’ve noticed that since having a baby, my monochromatic vision now has a hint of color. Maybe it’s because I anticipate the excitement and wonderment she’s going to experience. Maybe it’s because I get to experience them with her. Either way, it’s no longer black and white for me but I still won’t be asking if you’ve got your shopping done or put up a tree.