Tis the Season for Reflection

23 Nov

I am not a bah-humbug person but I’m definitely of an age where holidays inevitably breed a degree of melancholy and reflection on years gone by and family members no longer here. By the time you’re forty, each season brings “a remembrance of things past.”  

When I was a little girl I had some gloriously idealistic Christmas holidays. In particular, the years my dad and I would fly to Wisconsin to spend time with his parents were magical, complete with snow, skating on lakes, baking cookies and dad taking me for brats at the local pub on the UW Madison campus. One year we even flew our beloved dog Boomer to Wisconsin so he too could have a white Christmas. Thanksgivings with dad were also good because they were lazy (at least for dad and I). One of his girlfriends always cooked while we watched football and read books (that sounds terribly sexist now). I must have helped in the kitchen but I have so few memories of doing so. And time with my mother was also meaningful. Even when her alcoholism began to creep in, she was generous beyond repair and loved making Christmas special for me. 

Then sadly the perfect moments shattered. The more money my dad made the more lavish my gifts and the less time he helped chop down or decorate the tree. I would have given anything for his time; not his money. His sobriety; not his drug addiction. My mother’s drinking also escalated to the point where by my freshman year in college, I chose not to go to either of their houses for the holidays. It became too traumatic. Too depressing. 

Stripped of the family foundation, I had to decide how to spend the holidays on my own. In college, I worked at Mrs. Field’s cookies every Christmas season because the customers were always polite. They liked their after-shopping cookie. And I’ve had some exotic holidays – in NYC, the Big Sur; England; even in Sumatra. But as I grew older and my friends started to marry and have kids, more and more, I retreated during the holidays. It was too painful to plug myself into other people’s families when I hadn’t created one of my own and I had long boycotted the gift extravaganza that is Christmas in America. It just wasn’t (and isn’t my scene). 

A few Christmas holidays, I’ve spent alone at a retreat center in the mountains with a church on the premises. That was very meaningful and one holiday, my mom even joined me there for the day. That I will cherish always. It was the year she was released from jail. After she left my cabin, I couldn’t stop crying. 

Now I do a mix of things. Some of the season I spend with friends and relatives; some of it I spend alone. Last Thanksgiving my grandfather died so the family met in Wisconsin for the funeral four months after my mom committed suicide. Then at Christmas, I attended all three of my church’s services. I’m sure this seemed very odd to many, but I couldn’t think of anywhere else I wanted to be. In God’s home on the birthday of his son.

And this Christmas, I may surf thanks to the Honda commercial I just saw that gave me the idea. 

What I do know about this season is that it is for reflection and that if you don’t have time to do that, it won’t be meaningful. And if there are any feelings associated with the period, you won’t have time to process them until they leak out unexpectedly.

It is a quiet, special time, if you let it be. If you make your own traditions and reflect on the wonder of Christ’s spirit.

2 Responses to “Tis the Season for Reflection”

  1. Kevin Brangwynne November 24, 2009 at 10:22 pm #

    Have a wonderful, restful, and reflective Holiday season Lise! Your description of your Christmas holidays in Wisconson sure brought back a memory or two for me, though mine were in New England! Hope seminary is going well for you…

  2. lisesletters November 25, 2009 at 2:29 am #

    Those White Christmases seem straight out of Courier and Ives. Have a wonderful holiday too!

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